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Full text of "Backlog studies"



/AsUCkS . .: 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/backlogstudies00warn_1 



BACKLOG STUDIES 

BY CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER 
Special JlimiteD CEDition 



The Mistress 



COPYRIGHT, 1872, BY JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO. 
COPYRIGHT, 1885 AND 1899, BY HOUGHTON 
MIFFLIN & CO. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



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PAGE 

First Study i 

Second Study ........ 21 ^ 

Third Study <> 47 v 

Fourth Study 71 

Fifth Study 95 

Sixth Study 123 

Seventh Study 149 

Eighth Study. . , 165 

Ninth Study 193 

Tenth Study 219 

Eleventh Study 237 



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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

The Mistress (page 206) Frontispiece 

Johnny ... in that defile with Braddock 18 

Herbert — full of criticism 32 

The Young Lady 66 

I WAITED long for THE DECISION 92 

Stranded by the tempest 114 

"To DIE of sunstroke in February seemed inappropriate" 130 

The disadvantage of congregational singing 158 

"Scoffer!" 172 

The Fire-Tender 206 

He relished a "spell of sickness" in haying-timb . . . 232 
Conscious of a puff of oriental airs 246 



FIRST STUDY 



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FIRST STUDY 



I 



THE fire on the hearth has almost gone out 
in New England ; the hearth has gone 
out; the family has lost its centre; age 
ceases to be respected; sex is only distinguished 
by the difference between millinery bills and tailors* 
bills; there is no more toast-and-cider ; the young 
are not allowed to eat mince-pies at ten o'clock at 
night ; half a cheese is no longer set to toast before 
the fire ; you scarcely ever see in front of the coals 
a row of roasting apples, which a bright little girl, 
with many a dive and start, shielding her sunny 
face from the fire with one hand, turns from time 
to time ; scarce are the gray-haired sires who strop 



4 BACKLOG STUDIES 

their razors on the family Bible, and doze in the 
chimney-corner. A good many things have gone 
out with the fire on the hearth. 

I do not mean to say that public and private 
morality have vanished with the hearth. A good 
degree of purity and considerable happiness are 
possible with grates and blowers ; it is a day of 
trial, when we are all passing through a fiery fur- 
nace, and very likely we shall be purified as we are 
dried up and wasted away. Of course the family 
is gone, as an institution, though there still are 
attempts to bring up a family round a "register." 
But you might just as well try to bring it up by 
hand, as without the rallying-point of a hearthstone. 
Are there any homesteads nowadays ? Do people 
hesitate to change houses any more than they do to 
change their clothes ? People hire houses as they 
would a masquerade costume, liking, sometimes, to 
appear for a year in a little fictitious stone-front 
splendor above their means. Thus it happens that 
so many people live in houses that do not fit them. 
I should almost as soon think of wearing another 
person's clothes as his house ; unless I could let it 
out and take it in until it fitted, and somehow ex- 
pressed my own character and taste. But we have 
fallen into the days of conformity. It is no wonder 
that people constantly go into their neighbors* 
houses by mistake, just as, in spite of the Maine 



BACKLOG STUDIES 5 

law, they wear away each other's hats from an even- 
ing party. It has almost come to this, that you 
might as well be anybody else as yourself. 

Am I mistaken in supposing that this is owing to 
the discontinuance of big chimneys, with wide fire- 
places in them ? How can a person be attached to 
a house that has no centre of attraction, no soul in 
it, in the visible form of a glowing fire and a warm 
chimney, like the heart in the body.? When you 
think of the old homestead, if you ever do, your 
thoughts go straight to the wide chimney and its 
burning logs. No wonder that you are ready to 
move from one fireplaceless house into another. 
But you have something just as good, you say. 
Yes, I have heard of it. This age, which imitates 
everything, even to the virtues of our ancestors, has 
invented a fireplace, with artificial, iron, or composi- 
tion logs in it, hacked and painted, in which gas is 
burned, so that it has the appearance of a wood fire. 
This seems to me blasphemy. Do you think a cat 
would lie down before it? Can you poke it.? If 
you can't poke it, it is a fraud. To poke a wood 
fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything 
else in the world. The crowning human virtue in a 
man is to let his wife poke the fire. I do not know 
how any virtue whatever is possible over an imi- 
tation gas log. What a sense of insincerity the 
family must have, if they indulge in the hypocrisy 



6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

of gathering about it ! With this centre of untruth- 
fulness, what must the Ufe in the family be ? Per- 
haps the father will be living at the rate of ten thou- 
sand a year on a salary of four thousand ; perhaps 
the mother, more beautiful and younger than her 
beautified daughters, will rouge ; perhaps the young 
ladies will make wax-work. A cynic might suggest 
as the motto of modern life this simple legend, " Just 
as good as the real.'* But I am not a cynic, and I 
hope for the rekindling of wood fires, and a return 
of the beautiful home light from them. If a wood 
fire is a luxury, it is cheaper than many in which we 
indulge without thought, and cheaper than the visits 
of a doctor, made necessary by the want of ventila- 
tion of the house. Not that I have anything against 
doctors ; I only wish, after they have been to see us 
in a way that seems so friendly, they had nothing 
against us. 

My fireplace, which is deep, and nearly three feet 
wide, has a broad hearthstone in front of it, where 
the live coals tumble down, and a pair of gigantic 
brass andirons. The brasses are burnished, and 
shine cheerfully in the firelight, and on either side 
stand tall shovel and tongs, like sentries, mounted 
in brass. The tongs, like the two-handed sword of 
Bruce, cannot be wielded by puny people. We 
bum in it hickory wood, cut long. We like the 
smell of this aromatic forest timber, and its clear 



BACKLOG STUDIES 7 

flame. The birch is also a sweet wood for the 
hearth, with a sort of spiritual flame and an even 
temper, — no snappishness. Some prefer the elm, 
which holds fire so well ; and I have a neighbor who 
uses nothing but apple-tree wood, — a solid, family 
sort of wood, fragrant also, and full of delightful 
suggestions. But few people can afford to bum up 
their fruit-trees. I should as soon think of lighting 
the fire with sweet-oil that comes in those graceful 
wicker-bound flasks from Naples, or with manu- 
script sermons, which, however, do not burn well, 
be they never so dry, — not half so well as printed 
editorials. 

Few people know how to make a wood fire, but 
everybody thinks he or she does. You want, first, 
a large backlog, which does not rest on the andirons. 
This will keep your fire forward, radiate heat all 
day, and late in the evening fall into a ruin of glow- 
ing coals, like the last days of a good man, whose 
life is the richest and most beneficent at the close, 
when the flames of passion and the sap of youth are 
burned out, and there only remain the solid, bright 
elements of character. Then you want a forestick 
on the andirons ; and upon these build the fire of 
lighter stuff. In this way you have at once a cheer- 
ful blaze, and the fire gradually eats into the solid 
mass, sinking down with increasing fervor ; coals 
drop below, and delicate tongues of flame sport 



8 BACKLOG STUDIES 

along the beautiful grain of the forestick. There 
are people who kindle a fire underneath. But these 
are conceited people, who are wedded to their own 
way. I suppose an accomplished incendiary always 
starts a fire in the attic, if he can. I am not an 
incendiary, but I hate bigotry. I don't call those 
incendiaries very good Christians who, when they 
set fire to the martyrs, touched off the fagots at the 
bottom, so as to make them go slow. Besides, 
knowledge works down easier than it does up. 
Education must proceed from the more enlightened 
down to the more ignorant strata. If you want 
better common schools, raise the standard of the 
colleges, and so on. Build your fire on top. Let 
your light shine. I have seen people build a fire 
under a balky horse ; but he would n't go ; he 'd be 
a horse-martyr first. A fire kindled under one 
never did him any good. Of course you can make 
a fire on the hearth by kindling it underneath, but 
that does not make it right. I want my hearth-fire 
to be an emblem of the best things. 

II 

It must be confessed that a wood fire needs as 
much tending as a pair of twins. To say nothing 
of fiery projectiles sent into the room, even by the 
best wood, from the explosion of gases confined in 



BACKLOG STUDIES 9 

its cells, the brands are continually dropping down, 
and coals are being scattered over the hearth. How- 
ever much a careful housewife, who thinks more of 
neatness than enjoyment, may dislike this, it is one 
of the chief delights of a wood fire. I would as 
soon have an Englishman without side-whiskers as 
a fire without a big backlog ; and I would rather 
have no fire than one that required no tending, — 
one of dead wood that could not sing again the 
imprisoned songs of the forest, or give out in bril- 
liant scintillations the sunshine it absorbed in its 
growth. Flame is an ethereal sprite, and the spice 
of danger in it gives zest to the care of the hearth- 
fire. Nothing is so beautiful as springing, chan- 
ging flame, — it was the last freak of the Gothic 
architecture men to represent the fronts of elabo- 
rate edifices of stone as on fire, by the kindling flam- 
boyant devices. A fireplace is, besides, a private 
laboratory, where one can witness the most brilliant 
chemical experiments, minor conflagrations only 
wanting the grandeur of cities on fire. It is a vul- 
gar notion that a fire is only for heat. A chief value 
of it is, however, to look at. It is a picture, framed 
between the jambs. You have nothing on your 
walls, by the best masters (the poor masters are 
not, however, represented) that is really so fascinat- 
ing, so spiritual. Speaking like an upholsterer, it 
furnishes the room. And it is never twice the same. 



lo BACKLOG STUDIES 

In this respect it is like the landscape-view through 
a window, always seen in a new light, color, or con- 
dition. The fireplace is a window into the most 
charming world I ever had a glimpse of. 

Yet direct heat is an agreeable sensation. I am 
not scientific enough to despise it, and have no 
taste for a winter residence on Mount Washing- 
ton, where the thermometer cannot be kept comfort- 
able even by boiling. They say that they say in 
Boston that there is a satisfaction in being well 
dressed which religion cannot give. There is cer- 
tainly a satisfaction in the direct radiance of a hick- 
ory fire which is not to be found in the fieriest 
blasts of a furnace. The hot air of a furnace is a 
sirocco; the heat of a wood fire is only intense 
sunshine, like that bottled in Lacrimae Christi. 
Besides this, the eye is delighted, the sense of 
smell is regaled by the fragrant decomposition, and 
the ear is pleased with the hissing, crackling, and 
singing, — a liberation of so many outdoor noises. 
Some people like the sound of bubbling in a boil- 
ing pot, or the fizzing of a frying-spider. But there 
is nothing gross in the animated crackling of sticks 
of wood blazing on the hearth ; not even if chest- 
nuts are roasting in the ashes. All the senses are 
ministered to, and the imagination is left as free as 
the leaping tongues of flame. 

The attention which a wood fire demands is one 



BACKLOG STUDIES ii 

of its best recommendations. We value little that 
which costs us no trouble to maintain. If we had 
to keep the sun kindled up and going by private 
corporate action or act of Congress, and to be 
taxed for the support of customs officers of solar 
heat, we should prize it more than we do. Not 
that I should like to look upon the sun as a job, 
and have the proper regulation of its temperature 
get into politics, where we already have so much 
combustible stuff ; but we take it quite too much 
as a matter of course, and, having it free, do not 
reckon it among the reasons for gratitude. Many 
people shut it out of their houses as if it were an 
enemy, watch its descent upon the carpet as if it 
were only a thief of color, and plant trees to shut 
it away from the mouldering house. All the ani- 
mals know better than this, as well as the more 
simple races of men ; the old women of the south- 
em Italian coasts sit all day in the sun and ply the 
distaff, as grateful as the sociable hens on the 
south side of a New England barn ; the slow tor- 
toise likes to take the sun upon his sloping back, 
soaking in color that shall make him immortal 
when the imperishable part of him is cut up into 
shell ornaments. The capacity of a cat to absorb 
sunshine is only equalled by that of an Arab or an 
Ethiopian. They are not afraid of injuring their 
complexions. White must be the color of civiliza- 



12 BACKLOG STUDIES 

tion; it has so many natural disadvantages. But 
this is politics. I was about to say that, however 
it may be with sunshine, one is always grateful for 
his wood fire, because he does not maintain it with- 
out some cost. 

Yet I cannot but confess to a difference between 
sunlight and the light of a wood fire. The sun- 
shine is entirely untamed. Where it rages most 
freely it tends to evoke the brilliancy rather than 
the harmonious satisfactions of nature. The mon- 
strous growths and the flaming colors of the tropics 
contrast with our more subdued loveliness of foli- 
age and bloom. The birds of the middle region 
dazzle with their contrasts of plumage, and their 
voices are for screaming rather than singing. I 
presume the new experiments in sound would pro- 
ject a macaw's voice in very tangled and inharmo- 
nious lines of light. I suspect that the fiercest 
sunlight puts people, as well as animals and vege- 
tables, on extremes in all ways. A wood fire on 
the hearth is a kindler of the domestic virtues. It 
brings in cheerfulness and a family centre, and, be- 
sides, it is artistic. I should like to know if an 
artist could ever represent on canvas a happy 
family gathered round a hole in the floor called a 
register. Given a fireplace, and a tolerable artist 
could almost create a pleasant family round it. 
But what could he conjure out of a register.? If 



BACKLOG STUDIES 13 

there was any virtue among our ancestors, — and 
they labored under a great many disadvantages, 
and had few of the aids which we have to excel- 
lence of life, — I am convinced they drew it mostly 
from the fireside. If it was difficult to read the 
eleven commandments by the light of a pine-knot, 
it was not difficult to get the sweet spirit of them 
from the countenance of the serene mother knit- 
ting in the chimney-corner. 



Ill 

When the fire is made, you want to sit in front 
of it and grow genial in its effulgence. I have 
never been upon a throne, — except in moments of 
a traveller's curiosity, about as long as a South 
American dictator remains on one, — but I have no 
idea that it compares, for pleasantness, with a seat 
before a wood fire. A whole leisure day before 
you, a good novel in hand, and the backlog only just 
beginning to kindle, with uncounted hours of com- 
fort in it, — has life anything more delicious ? For 
" novel ** you can substitute " Calvin's Institutes," 
if you wish to be virtuous as well as happy. Even 
Calvin would melt before a wood fire. A great 
snowstorm, visible on three sides of your wide-win- 
dowed room, loading the evergreens, blown in fine 
powder from the great chestnut-tops, piled up in 



14 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ever-accumulating masses, covering the paths, the 
shrubbery, the hedges, drifting and clinging in fan- 
tastic deposits, deepening your sense of security, 
and taking away the sin of idleness by making it 
a necessity, — this is an excellent background to 
your day by the fire. 

To deliberately sit down in the morning to read 
a novel, to enjoy yourself, is this not, in New Eng- 
land (I am told they don't read much in other 
parts of the country), the sin of sins ? Have you 
any right to read, especially novels, until you have 
exhausted the best part of the day in some employ- 
ment that is called practical ? Have you any right 
to enjoy yourself at all until the fag end of the day, 
when you are tired and incapable of enjoying your- 
self ? I am aware that this is the practice, if not 
the theory, of our society, — to postpone the de- 
lights of social intercourse until after dark, and 
rather late at night, when body and mind are both 
weary with the exertions of business, and when we 
can give to what is the most delightful and profit- 
able thing in life, social and intellectual society, 
only the weariness of dull brains and over-tired 
muscles. No wonder we take our amusements 
sadly, and that so many people find dinners heavy 
and parties stupid. Our economy leaves no place 
for amusements ; we merely add them to the bur- 
den of a life already full. The world is still a little 
off the track as to what is really useful. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 15 

I confess that the morning is a very good time 
to read a novel, or anything else which is good, and 
requires a fresh mind ; and I take it that nothing is 
worth reading that does not require an alert mind. 
I suppose it is necessary that business should be 
transacted; though the amount of business that 
does not contribute to anybody's comfort or im- 
provement suggests the query whether it is not 
overdone. I know that unremitting attention to 
business is the price of success, but I don't know 
what success is. There is a man, whom we all 
know, who built a house that cost a quarter of a 
million of dollars, and furnished it for another like 
sum, who does not know anything more about archi- 
tecture, or painting, or books, or history, than he 
cares for the rights of those who have not so much 
money as he has. I heard him once, in a foreign 
gallery, say to his wife, as they stood in front of 
a famous picture by Rubens : " That is the Rape of 
the Sardines ! " What a cheerful world it would 
be if everybody was as successful as that man ! 
While I am reading my book by the fire, and taking 
an active part in important transactions that may 
be a good deal better than real, let me be thankful 
that a great many men are profitably employed in 
offices and bureaus and country stores in keeping 
up the gossip and endless exchange of opinions 
among mankind, so much of which is made to ap- 



i6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

pear to the women at home as "business." I find 
that there is a sort of busy idleness among men in 
this world that is not held in disrepute. When 
the time comes that I have to prove my right to 
vote, with women, I trust that it will be remembered 
in my favor that I made this admission. If it is 
true, as a witty conservative once said to me, that 
we never shall have peace in this country until we 
elect a colored woman president, I desire to be rec- 
tus in curia early. 

IV 

The fireplace, as we said, is a window through 
which we look out upon other scenes. We like to 
read of the small, bare room, with cobwebbed ceil- 
ing and narrow window, in which the poor child of 
genius sits with his magical pen, the master of a 
realm of beauty and enchantment. I think the 
open fire does not kindle the imagination so much 
as it awakens the memory ; one sees the past in its 
crumbling embers and ashy grayness, rather than 
the future. People become reminiscent and even 
sentimental in front of it. They used to become 
something else in those good old days when it was 
thought best to heat the poker red hot before 
plunging it into the mugs of flip. This heating of 
the poker has been disapproved of late years, but I 



BACKLOG STUDIES 17 

do not know on what grounds ; if one is to drink 
bitters and gins and the like, such as I understand 
as good people as clerg)mien and women take in 
private, and by advice, I do not know why one 
should not make them palatable and heat them 
with his own poker. Cold whiskey out of a bottle, 
taken as a prescription six times a day on the sly, 
isn't my idea of virtue any more than the social 
ancestral glass, sizzling wickedly with the hot iron. 
Names are so confusing in this world ; but things 
are apt to remain pretty much the same, whatever 
we call them. 

Perhaps as you look into the fireplace it widens 
and grows deep and cavernous. The back and the 
jambs are built up of great stones, not always 
smoothly laid, with jutting ledges upon which ashes 
are apt to lie. The hearthstone is an enormous block 
of trap rock, with a surface not perfectly even, but 
a capital place to crack butternuts on. Over the 
fire swings an iron crane, with a row of pot-hooks 
of all lengths hanging from it. It swings out when 
the housewife wants to hang on the teakettle, and 
it is strong enough to support a row of pots, or 
a mammoth caldron kettle on occasion. What a 
jolly sight is this fireplace when the pots and ket- 
tles in a row are all boiling and bubbling over the 
flame, and a roasting-spit is turning in front ! It 
makes a person as htmgry as one of Scott's novels. 



i8 BACKLOG STUDIES 

But the brilliant sight is in the frosty morning, 
about daylight, when the fire is made. The coals 
are raked open, the split sticks are piled up in 
open-work criss-crossing, as high as the crane ; and 
when the flame catches hold and roars up through 
the interstices, it is like an out-of-door bonfire. 
Wood enough is consumed in that morning sacri- 
fice to cook the food of a Parisian family for a year. 
How it roars up the wide chimney, sending into 
the air the signal smoke and sparks which announce 
to the farming neighbors another day cheerfully 
begun ! The sleepiest boy in the world would get 
up in his red flannel nightgown to see such a fire 
lighted, even if he dropped to sleep again in his 
chair before the ruddy blaze. Then it is that the 
house, which has shrunk and creaked all night in 
the pinching cold of winter, begins to glow again 
and come to life. The thick frost melts little by 
little on the small window-panes, and it is seen that 
the gray dawn is breaking over the leagues of pal- 
lid snow. It is time to blow out the candle, which 
has lost all its cheerfulness in the light of day. 
The morning romance is over ; the family is astir ; 
and member after member appears with the morn- 
ing yawn, to stand before the crackling, fierce con- 
flagration. The daily round begins. The most 
hateful employment ever invented for mortal man 
presents itself : the " chores " are to be done. The 



Johnny . . . in that defile with Braddock 



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BACKLOG STUDIES 19 

boy who expects every morning to open into a new 
world finds that to-day is like yesterday, but he be- 
lieves to-morrow will be different. And yet enough 
for him, for the day, is the wading in the snow- 
drifts, or the sliding on the diamond - sparkling 
crust. Happy, too, is he, when the storm rages, 
and the snow is piled high against the windows, if 
he can sit in the warm chimney-corner and read 
about Burgoyne, and General Fraser, and Miss 
McCrea, midwinter marches through the wilder- 
ness, surprises of wigwams, and the stirring ballad, 
say, of the Battle of the Kegs : — 

" Come, gallants, attend and list a friend 
Thrill forth harmonious ditty ; 
WhUe I shall tell what late befell 
At Philadelphia city." 

I should like to know what heroism a boy in 
an old New England farmhouse — rough-nursed by 
nature, and fed on the traditions of the old wars — 
did not aspire to. " John," says the mother, " you 11 
bum your head to a crisp in that heat." But John 
does not hear ; he is storming the Plains of Abra- 
ham just now. "Johnny, dear, bring in a stick of 
wood." How can Johnny bring in wood when he 
is in that defile with Braddock, and the Indians are 
popping at him from behind every tree } There is 
something about a boy that I like, after all. 

The fire rests upon the broad hearth, the hearth 



20 BACKLOG STUDIES 

rests upon a great substruction of stone, and the 
substruction rests upon the cellar. What supports 
the cellar I never knew, but the cellar supports the 
family. The cellar is the foundation of domestic 
comfort. Into its dark, cavernous recesses the 
child's imagination fearfully goes. Bogies guard 
the bins of choicest apples. I know not what com- 
ical sprites sit astride the cider-barrels ranged along 
the walls. The feeble flicker of the tallow-candle 
does not at all dispel, but creates, illusions, and 
magnifies all the rich possibilities of this under- 
ground treasure-house. When the cellar-door is 
opened, and the boy begins to descend into the 
thick darkness, it is always with a heart-beat as of 
one started upon some adventure. Who can forget 
the smell that comes through the opened door ? — a 
mingling of fresh earth, fruit exhaling delicious 
aroma, kitchen vegetables, the mouldy odor of bar- 
rels, a sort of ancestral air, — as if a door had been 
opened into an old romance. Do you like it ? Not 
much. But then I would not exchange the remem- 
brance of it for a good many odors and perfumes 
that I do like. 

It is time to punch the backlog and put on a new 
forestick. 



SECOND STUDY 







SECOND STUDY 



THE log was white birch. The beautiful 
satin bark at once kindled into a soft, pure, 
but brilliant flame, something like that of 
naphtha. There is no other wood flame so rich, 
and it leaps up in a joyous, spiritual way, as if glad 
to burn for the sake of burning. Burning like a 
clear oil, it has none of the heaviness and fatness of 
the pine and the balsam. Woodsmen are at a loss 
to account for its intense and yet chaste flame, since 
the bark has no oily appearance. The heat from it 



24 BACKLOG STUDIES 

is fierce, and the light dazzling. It flares up eagerly 
like young love, and then dies away ; the wood does 
not keep up the promise of the bark. The woods- 
men, it is proper to say, have not considered it in its 
relation to young love. In the remote settlements 
the pine-knot is still the torch of courtship ; it en- 
dures to sit up by. The birch-bark has alliances 
with the world of sentiment and of letters. The 
most poetical reputation of the North American 
Indian floats in a canoe made of it; his picture- 
writing was inscribed on it. It is the paper that 
nature furnishes for lovers in the wilderness, who 
are enabled to convey a delicate sentiment by its 
use, which is expressed neither in their ideas nor 
chirography. It is inadequate for legal parchment, 
but does very well for deeds of love, which are not 
meant usually to give a perfect title. With care, it 
may be split into sheets as thin as the Chinese 
paper. It is so beautiful to handle that it is a pity 
civilization cannot make more use of it. But fancy 
articles manufactured from it are very much like all 
ornamental work made of nature*s perishable seeds, 
leaves, cones, and dry twigs, — exquisite while the 
pretty fingers are fashioning it, but soon growing 
shabby and cheap to the eye. And yet there is a 
pathos in " dried things," whether they are displayed 
as ornaments in some secluded home, or hidden 
religiously in bureau-drawers, where profane eyes 



BACKLOG STUDIES 25 

cannot see how white ties are growing yellow and 
ink is fading from treasured letters, amid a faint 
and discouraging perfume of ancient rose-leaves. 

The birch log holds out very well while it is 
green, but has not substance enough for a backlog 
when dry. Seasoning green timber or men is 
always an experiment. A man may do very well 
in a simple, let us say, country or backwoods line of 
life, who would come to nothing in a more compli- 
cated civilization. City life is a severe trial. One 
man is struck with a dry-rot ; another develops sea- 
son-cracks ; another shrinks and swells with every 
change of circumstance. Prosperity is said to be 
more trying than adversity, a theory which most 
people are willing to accept without trial ; but few 
men stand the drying out of the natural sap of their 
greenness in the artificial heat of city life. This, be 
it noticed, is nothing against the drying and season- 
ing process ; character must be put into the crucible 
some time, and why not in this world ? A man who 
cannot stand seasoning will not have a high market 
value in any part of the universe. It is creditable 
to the race that so many men and women bravely 
jump into the furnace of prosperity and expose 
themselves to the drying influences of city life. 

The first fire that is lighted on the hearth in the 
autumn seems to bring out the cold weather. De- 
ceived by the placid appearance of the dying year, 



26 BACKLOG STUDIES 

the softness of the sky, and the warm color of foli- 
age, we have been shivering about for days without 
exactly comprehending what was the matter. The 
open fire at once sets up a standard of comparison. 
We find that the advance guards of winter are be- 
sieging the house. The cold rushes in at every 
crack of door and window, apparently signaled by 
the flame to invade the house and fill it with chilly 
drafts and sarcasms on what we call the temperate 
zone. It needs a roaring fire to beat back the en- 
emy ; a feeble one is only an invitation to the most 
insulting demonstrations. Our pious New England 
ancestors were philosophers in their way. It was 
not simply owing to grace that they sat for hours 
in their bam-like meeting-houses during the winter 
Sundays, the thermometer many degrees below 
freezing, with no fire, except the zeal in their own 
hearts, — a congregation of red noses and bright 
eyes. It was no wonder that the minister in the 
pulpit warmed up to his subject, cried aloud, used 
hot words, spoke a good deal of the hot place and 
the Person whose presence was a burning shame, 
hammered the desk as if he expected to drive his 
text through a two-inch plank, and heated himself 
by all allowable ecclesiastical gymnastics. A few 
of their followers in our day seem to forget that our 
modern churches are heated by furnaces and sup- 
plied with gas. In the old days it would have been 



BACKLOG STUDIES 27 

thought unphilosophic as well as effeminate to warm 
the meeting-houses artificially. In one house I 
knew, at least, when it was proposed to introduce a 
stove to take a little of the chill from the Sunday 
services, the deacons protested against the innova- 
tion. They said that the stove might benefit those 
who sat close to it, but it would drive all the cold 
air to the other parts of the church, and freeze the 
people to death; it was cold enough now around 
the edges. Blessed days of ignorance and upright 
living ! Sturdy men who served God by resolutely 
sitting out the icy hours of service, amid the rat- 
tling of windows and the carousal of winter in the 
high, wind-swept galleries ! Patient women, wait- 
ing in the chilly house for consumption to pick out 
his victims, and replace the color of youth and the 
flush of devotion with the hectic of disease! At 
least, you did not doze and droop in our overheated 
edifices, and die of vitiated air and disregard of the 
simplest conditions of organized life. It is fortunate 
that each generation does not comprehend its own 
ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our ances- 
tors barbarous. It is something also that each age 
has its choice of the death it will die. Our genera- 
tion is most ingenious. From our public assembly- 
rooms and houses we have almost succeeded in ex- 
cluding pure air. It took the race ages to build 
dwellings that would keep out rain; it has taken 



2S BACKLOG STUDIES 

longer to build houses air-tight, but we are on the 
eve of success. We are only foiled by the ill-fittmg, 
insincere work of the builders, who build for a day, 
and charge for all time. 

II 

When the fire on the hearth has blazed up and 
then settled into steady radiance, talk begins. 
There is no place like the chimney-corner for con- 
fidences ; for picking up the clues of an old friend- 
ship ; for taking note where one's self has drifted, 
by comparing ideas and prejudices with the inti- 
mate friend of years ago, whose course in life has 
lain apart from yours. No stranger puzzles you so 
much as the once close friend, with whose thinking 
and associates you have for years been unfamiliar. 
Life has come to mean this and that to you ; you 
have fallen into certain habits of thought ; for you 
the world has progressed in this or that direction ; 
of certain results you feel very sure ; you have fallen 
into harmony with your surroundings; you meet 
day after day people interested in the things that 
interest you ; you are not in the least opinionated ; 
it is simply your good fortune to look upon the 
affairs of the world from the right point of view. 
When you last saw your friend, — less than a year 
after you left college, — he was the most sensible 



BACKLOG STUDIES 29 

and agreeable of men ; he had no heterodox notions ; 
he agreed with you ; you could even tell what sort 
of a wife he would select, and if you could do that 
you held the key to his life. 

Well, Herbert came to visit me the other day 
from the antipodes. And here he sits by the fire- 
place. I cannot think of any one I would rather 
see there, — except perhaps Thackeray ; or, for 
entertainment, Boswell ; or old Pepys ; or one of 
the people who were left out of the Ark. They 
were talking one foggy London night at Hazlitt's 
about whom they would most like to have seen, 
when Charles Lamb startled the company by de- 
claring that he would rather have seen Judas Iscar- 
iot than any other person who had lived on the 
earth. For myself, I would rather have seen Lamb 
himself once than to have lived with Judas. Her- 
bert, to my great delight, has not changed ; I should 
know him anywhere, — the same serious, contem- 
plative face, with lurking humor at the corners of 
the mouth, — the same cheery laugh and clear, dis- 
tinct enunciation as of old. There is nothing so 
winning as a good voice. To see Herbert again, 
unchanged in all outward essentials, is not only 
gratifying, but valuable as a testimony to nature's 
success in holding on to a personal identity, through 
the entire change of matter that had been con- 
stantly taking place for so many years. I know 



30 BACKLOG STUDIES 

very well there is here no part of the Herbert whose 
hand I had shaken at the Commencement parting ; 
but it is an astonishing reproduction of him, — a 
material likeness ; and now for the spiritual. 

Such a wide chance for divergence in the spirit- 
ual. It has been such a busy world for twenty 
years. So many things have been torn up by the 
roots again that were settled when we left college. 
There were to be no more wars; democracy was 
democracy, and progress, the differentiation of the 
individual, was a mere question of clothes ; if you 
want to be different, go to your tailor ; nobody had 
demonstrated that there is a man-soul, and a woman- 
soul, and that each is in reality only a half -soul, — 
putting the race, so to speak, upon the half-shell. 
The social oyster being opened, there appear to be 
two shells and only one oyster; who shall have 
it ? So many new canons of taste, of criticism, of 
morality, have been set up ; there has been such a 
resurrection of historical reputations for new judg- 
ment, and there have been so many discoveries, 
geographical, archaeological, geological, biological, 
that the earth is not at all what it was supposed to 
be ; and our philosophers are much more anxious to 
ascertain where we came from than whither we are 
going. In this whirl and turmoil of new ideas, 
Nature, which has only the single end of maintain- 
ing the physical identity in the body, works on 



BACKLOG STUDIES 31 

undisturbed, replacing particle for particle, and pre- 
serving the likeness more skillfully than a mosaic 
artist in the Vatican ; she has not even her mate- 
rials sorted and labeled, as the Roman artist has his 
thousands of bits of color ; and man is all the while 
doing his best to confuse the process, by changing 
his climate, his diet, all his surroundings, without 
the least care to remain himself. But the mind ? 

It is more difficult to get acquainted with Herbert 
than with an entire stranger, for I have my prepos- 
sessions about him, and do not find him in so many 
places where I expect to find him. He is full of 
criticism of the authors I admire ; he thinks stupid 
or improper the books I most read ; he is sceptical 
about the "movements " I am interested in ; he has 
formed very different opinions from mine concern- 
ing a hundred men and women of the present day ; 
we used to eat from one dish ; we could n't now find 
anything in common in a dozen ; his prejudices (as 
we call our opinions) are most extraordinary, and 
not half so reasonable as my prejudices ; there are 
a great many persons and things that I am accus- 
tomed to denounce, uncontradicted by anybody, 
which he defends ; his public opinion is not at all 
my public opinion. I am sorry for him. He 
appears to have fallen into influences and among a 
set of people foreign to me. I find that his church 
has a different steeple on it from my church (which, 



32 BACKLOG STUDIES 

to say the truth, has n't any). It is a pity that such 
a dear friend and a man of so much promise should 
have drifted off into such general contrariness. I 
see Herbert sitting here by the fire, with the old 
look in his face coming out more and more, but I 
do not recognize any features of his mind, — except 
perhaps his contrariness ; yes, he was always a little 
contrary, I think. And finally he surprised me 
with, "Well, my friend, you seem to have drifted 
away from your old notions and opinions. We used 
to agree when we were together, but I sometimes 
wondered where you would land; for, pardon me, 
you showed signs of looking at things a little con- 
trary." 

I am silent for a good while. I am trying to 
think who I am. There was a person whom I 
thought I knew, very fond of Herbert, and agree- 
ing with him in most things. Where has he gone ? 
and, if he is here, where is the Herbert that I knew ? 

If his intellectual and moral sympathies have all 
changed, I wonder if his physical tastes remain, like 
his appearance, the same. There has come over 
this country within the last generation, as every- 
body knows, a great wave of condemnation of pie. 
It has taken the character of a " movement," though 
we have had no conventions about it, nor is any one, 
of any of the several sexes among us, running for 
president against it. It is safe almost anywhere to 



Herbert — full of criticism 



BACKLOG STUDIES 33 

denounce pie, yet nearly everybody eats it on occa- 
sion. A great many people think it savors of a life 
abroad to speak with horror of pie, although they 
were very likely the foremost of the Americans in 
Paris who used to speak with more enthusiasm of 
the American pie at Madame Busque's than of the 
Venus of Milo. To talk against pie and still eat it 
is snobbish, of course ; but snobbery, being an as- 
piring failing, is sometimes the prophecy of better 
things. To affect dislike of pie is something. We 
have no statistics on the subject, and cannot tell 
whether it is gaining or losing in the country at 
large. Its disappearance in select circles is no test. 
The amount of writing against it is no more test of 
its desuetude than the number of religious tracts 
distributed in a given district is a criterion of its 
piety. We are apt to assume that certain regions 
are substantially free of it. Herbert and I, travel- 
ing north one summer, fancied that we could draw 
in New England a sort of diet line, like the sweep- 
ing curves on the isothermal charts, which should 
show at least the leading pie sections. Journeying 
towards the White Mountains, we concluded that a 
line passing through Bellows Falls, and bending a 
little south on either side, would mark northward 
the region of perpetual pie. In this region pie is 
to be found at all hours and seasons, and at every 
meal. I am not sure, however, that pie is not a 



34 BACKLOG STUDIES 

matter of altitude rather than latitude, as I find that 
all the hill and country towns of New England are 
full of those excellent women, the very salt of the 
housekeeping earth, who would feel ready to sink in 
mortification through their scoured kitchen floors, 
if visitors should catch them without a pie in the 
house. The absence of pie would be more noticed 
than a scarcity of Bible, even. Without it the 
housekeepers are as distracted as the boarding- 
house keeper, who declared that if it were not for 
canned tomato she should have nothing to fly to. 
Well, in all this great agitation I find Herbert un- 
moved, a conservative, even to the undercrust. I 
dare not ask him if he eats pie at breakfast. There 
are some tests that the dearest friendship may not 
apply. 

" Will you smoke .^ " I ask. 

** No, I have reformed." 

** Yes, of course." 

" The fact is that when we consider the correla- 
tion of forces, the apparent sympathy of spirit mani- 
festations with electric conditions, the almost re- 
vealed mysteries of what may be called the odic 
force, and the relation of all these phenomena to 
the nervous system in man, it is not safe to do any- 
thing to the nervous system that will" — 

" Hang the nervous system ! Herbert, we can 
agree in one thing ; old memories, reveries, friend- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 35 

ships, centre about that : is n't an open wood fire 
good ? " 

" Yes," says Herbert, combatively, " if you don't 
sit before it too long." 

Ill 

The best talk is that which escapes up the open 
chimney and cannot be repeated. The finest woods 
make the best fire and pass away with the least 
residuum. I hope the next generation will not 
accept the reports of " interviews " as specimens of 
the conversations of these years of grace. 

But do we talk as well as our fathers and mothers 
did ? We hear wonderful stories of the bright gen- 
eration that sat about the wide fireplaces of New 
England. Good talk has so much short-hand that 
it cannot be reported, — the inflection, the change 
of voice, the shrug, cannot be caught on paper. 
The best of it is when the subject unexpectedly 
goes cross-lots, by a flash of short-cut, to a conclusion 
so suddenly revealed that it has the effect of wit. 

It needs the highest culture and the finest breed- 
ing to prevent the conversation from running into 
mere persiflage on the one hand — its common 
fate — or monologue on the other. Our conversa- 
tion is largely chaff. I am not sure but the former 
generation preached a good deal, but it had great 
practice in fireside talk, and must have talked well. 



36 BACKLOG STUDIES 

There were narrators in those days who could charm 
a circle all the evening long with stories. When 
each day brought comparatively little new to read, 
there was leisure for talk, and the rare book and 
the infrequent magazine were thoroughly discussed. 
Families now are swamped by the printed matter 
that comes daily upon the centre-table. There 
must be a division of labor, one reading this, and 
another that, to make any impression on it. The 
telegraph brings the only common food, and works 
this daily miracle, that every mind in Christendom 
is excited by one topic simultaneously with every 
other mind ; it enables a concurrent mental action, 
a burst of sympathy, or a universal prayer to be 
made, which must be, if we have any faith in the 
immaterial left, one of the chief forces in modern 
life. It is fit that an agent so subtle as electricity 
should be the minister of it. 

When there is so much to read, there is little 
time for conversation ; nor is there leisure for 
another pastime of the ancient firesides, called read- 
ing aloud. The listeners, who heard while they 
looked into the wide chimney-place, saw there pass 
in stately procession the events and the grand per- 
sons of history, were kindled with the delights of 
travel, touched by the romance of true love, or 
made restless by tales of adventure ; — the hearth 
became a sort of magic stone that could transport 



BACKLOG STUDIES 37 

those who sat by it to the most distant places and 
times, as soon as the book was opened and the reader 
began, of a winter's night. Perhaps the Puritan 
reader read through his nose, and all the little Puri- 
tans made the most dreadful nasal inquiries as the 
entertainment went on. The prominent nose of the 
intellectual New Englander is evidence of the con- 
stant linguistic exercise of the organ for generations. 
It grew by talking through. But I have no doubt 
that practice made good readers in those days. 
Good reading aloud is almost a lost accomplishment 
now. It is little thought of in the schools. It is 
disused at home. It is rare to find any one who 
can read, even from the newspaper, well. Read- 
ing is so universal, even with the uncultivated, that 
it is common to hear people mispronounce words 
that you did not suppose they had ever seen. In 
reading to themselves they glide over these words, 
in reading aloud they stumble over them. Besides, 
our every-day books and newspapers are so larded 
with French that the ordinary reader is obliged 
marcher a pas de loupy — for instance. 

The newspaper is probably responsible for mak- 
ing current many words with which the general 
reader is familiar, but which he rises to in the flow 
of conversation, and strikes at with a splash and an 
unsuccessful attempt at appropriation; the word, 
which he perfectly knows, hooks him in the gills, 



38 BACKLOG STUDIES 

and he cannot master it. The newspaper is thus 
widening the language in use, and vastly increasing 
the number of words which enter into common talk. 
The Americans of the lowest intellectual class 
probably use more words to express their ideas than 
the similar class of any other people ; but this pro- 
digality is partially balanced by the parsimony of 
words in some higher regions, in which a few phrases 
of current slang are made to do the whole duty of 
exchange of ideas ; if that can be called exchange of 
ideas when one intellect flashes forth to another the 
remark, concerning some report, that "you know 
how it is yourself," and is met by the response of 
"that's what's the matter," and rejoins with the 
perfectly conclusive " that 's so." It requires a high 
degree of culture to use slang with elegance and 
effect ; and we are yet very far from the Greek 
attainment. 

IV 

The fireplace wants to be all aglow, the wind 
rising, the night heavy and black above, but light 
with sifting snow on the earth, — a background of 
inclemency for the illumined room with its pictured 
walls, tables heaped with books, capacious easy- 
chairs and their occupants, — it needs, I say, to 
glow and throw its rays far through the crystal of 
the broad windows, in order that we may rightly 



BACKLOG STUDIES 39 

appreciate the relation of the wide-jambed chimney- 
to domestic architecture in our climate. We fell 
to talking about it ; and, as is usual when the con- 
versation is professedly on one subject, we wandered 
all around it. The young lady staying with us was 
roasting chestnuts in the ashes, and the frequent 
explosions required considerable attention. The 
mistress, too, sat somewhat alert, ready to rise at 
any instant and minister to the fancied want of this 
or that guest, forgetting the reposeful truth that 
people about a fireside will not have any wants if 
they are not suggested. The worst of them, if 
they desire anything, only want something hot, and 
that later in the evening. And it is an open ques- 
tion whether you ought to associate with people 
who want that. 

I was saying that nothing had been so slow in 
its progress in the world as domestic architecture. 
Temples, palaces, bridges, aqueducts, cathedrals, 
towers of marvelous delicacy and strength, grew to 
perfection while the common people lived in hovels, 
and the richest lodged in the most gloomy and con- 
tracted quarters. The dwelling-house is a modem 
institution. It is a curious fact that it has only im- 
proved with the social elevation of women. Men 
were never more brilliant in arms and letters than 
in the age of Elizabeth, and yet they had no homes. 
They made themselves thick-walled castles, with 



40 BACKLOG STUDIES 

slits in the masonry for windows, for defense, and 
magnificent banquet-halls for pleasure; the stone 
rooms into which they crawled for the night were 
often little better than dog-kennels. The Pompeians 
had no comfortable night-quarters. The most sin- 
gular thing to me, however, is that, especially in- 
terested as woman is in the house, she has never 
done anything for architecture. And yet woman is 
reputed to be an ingenious creature. 

Herbert. I doubt if woman has real ingenuity ; 
she has great adaptability. I don't say that she 
will do the same thing twice alike, like a Chinaman, 
but she is most cunning in suiting herself to cir- 
cumstances. 

The Fire-Tender. Oh, if you speak of con- 
structive, creative ingenuity, perhaps not ; but in 
the higher ranges of achievement — that of accom- 
plishing any purpose dear to her heart, for instance 
— her ingenuity is simply incomprehensible to me. 

Herbert. Yes, if you mean doing things by 
indirection. 

The Mistress. When you men assume all the 
direction, what else is left to us ? 

The Fire-Tender. Did you ever see a woman 
refurnish a house ? 

The Young Lady Staying With Us. I never 
saw a man do it, unless he was burned out of his 
rookery. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 41 

Herbert. There is no comfort in new things. 

The Fire-Tender (not noticing the interrup- 
tion). Having set her mind on a total revolution 
of the house, she buys one new thing, not too ob- 
trusive, nor much out of harmony with the old. 
The husband scarcely notices it, least of all does 
he suspect the revolution which she already has 
accomplished. Next, some article that does look a 
little shabby beside the new piece of furniture is 
sent to the garret, and its place is supplied by some- 
thing that will match in color and effect. Even the 
man can see that it ought to match, and so the pro- 
cess goes on, it may be for years, it may be forever, 
until nothing of the old is left, and the house is 
transformed as it was predetermined in the woman's 
mind. I doubt if the man ever understands how 
or when it was done ; his wife certainly never says 
anything about the refurnishing, but quietly goes 
on to new conquests. 

The Mistress. And isn't it better to buy little 
by little, enjoying every new object as you get it, 
and assimilating each article to your household life, 
and making the home a harmonious expression of 
your own taste, rather than to order things in sets, 
and turn your house, for the time being, into a fur- 
niture wareroom ? 

The Fire-Tender. Oh, I only spoke of the 
ingenuity of it. 



42 BACKLOG STUDIES 

The Young Lady. For my part, I never can 
get acquainted with more than one piece of furni- 
ture at a time. 

Herbert. I suppose women are our superiors 
in artistic taste, and I fancy that I can tell whether 
a house is furnished by a woman or a man; of 
course, I mean the few houses that appear to be 
the result of individual taste and refinement, — 
most of them look as if they had been furnished 
on contract by the upholsterer. 

The Mistress. Woman's province in this world 
is putting things to rights. 

Herbert. With a vengeance, sometimes. In 
the study, for example. My chief objection to 
woman is that she has no respect for the news- 
paper, or the printed page, as such. She is Siva, 
the destroyer. I have noticed that a great part of 
a married man*s time at home is spent in trying 
to find the things he has put on his study table. 

The Young Lady. Herbert speaks with the 
bitterness of a bachelor shut out of paradise. It is 
my experience that if women did not destroy the 
rubbish that men bring into the house, it would 
become uninhabitable, and need to be burned down 
every five years. 

The Fire-Tender. I confess women do a great 
deal for the appearance of things. When the mis- 
tress is absent, this room, although everything is 



BACKLOG STUDIES 43 

here as it was before, does not look at all like the 
same place; it is stiff, and seems to lack a soul. 
When she returns, I can see that her eye, even 
while greeting me, takes in the situation at a glance. 
While she is talking of the journey, and before she 
has removed her traveling-hat, she turns this chair 
and moves that, sets one piece of furniture at a dif- 
ferent angle, rapidly, and apparently unconsciously, 
shifts a dozen little knickknacks and bits of color, 
and the room is transformed. I could n't do it in a 
week. 

The Mistress. That is the first time I ever 
knew a man admit he could n't do anything if he 
had time. 

Herbert. Yet with all her peculiar instinct for 
making a home, women make themselves very little 
felt in our domestic architecture. 

The Mistress. Men build most of the houses 
in what might be called the ready-made-clothing 
style, and we have to do the best we can with 
them ; and hard enough it is to make cheerful 
homes in most of them. You will see something 
different when the woman is constantly consulted 
in the plan of the house. 

Herbert. We might see more difference if 
women would give any attention to architecture. 
Why are there no women architects } 

The Fire-Tender. Want of the ballot, doubt- 



44 BACKLOG STUDIES 

less. It seems to me that here is a splendid oppor- 
tunity for woman to come to the front. 

The Young Lady. They have no desire to 
come to the front ; they would rather manage 
things where they are. 

The Fire-Tender. If they would master the 
noble art, and put their brooding taste upon it, we 
might very likely compass something in our domes- 
tic architecture that we have not yet attained. The 
outside of our houses needs attention as well as the 
inside. Most of them are as ugly as money can 
build. 

The Young Lady. What vexes me most is, 
that women — married women — have so easily 
consented to give up open fires in their houses. 

Herbert. They dislike the dust and the bother. 
I think that women rather like the confined furnace 
heat. 

The Fire-Tender. Nonsense; it is their an- 
gelic virtue of submission. We would n't be hired 
to stay all day in the houses we build. 

The Young Lady. That has a very chivalrous 
sound, but I know there will be no reformation until 
women rebel and demand everywhere the open fire. 

Herbert. They are just now rebelling about 
something else ; it seems to me yours is a sort of 
counter-movement, a fire in the rear. 

The Mistress. I '11 join that movement. The 



BACKLOG STUDIES 45 

time has come when woman must strike for her 
altars and her fires. 

Herbert. Hear, hear ! 

The Mistress. Thank you, Herbert. I ap- 
plauded you once, when you declaimed that, years 
ago, in the old Academy. I remember how elo- 
quently you did it. 

Herbert. Yes, I was once a spouting idiot. 

Just then the door-bell rang, and company came 
in. And the company brought in a new atmos- 
phere, as company always does, — something of 
the disturbance of out-doors, and a good deal of its 
healthy cheer. The direct news that the thermom- 
eter was approaching zero, with a hopeful prospect 
of going below it, increased to liveliness our satis- 
faction in the fire. When the cider was heated in 
the brown stone pitcher, there was difference of 
opinion whether there should be toast in it ; some 
were for toast, because that was the old-fashioned 
way, and others were against it, "because it does 
not taste good " in cider. Herbert said there was 
very little respect left for our forefathers. 

More wood was put on, and the flame danced in 
a hundred fantastic shapes. The snow had ceased 
to fall, and the moonlight lay in silvery patches 
among the trees in the ravine. The conversation 
became worldly. 



THIRD STUDY 




TOE FIRE OF GENIUS QUENCHED BY TEMPERANCE 



THIRD STUDY 



HERBERT said, as we sat by the fire one 
night, that he wished he had turned his at- 
tention to writing poetry like Tennyson's. 
The remark was not whimsical, but satirical. 
Tennyson is a man of talent, who happened to 
strike a lucky vein, which he has worked with 
cleverness. The adventurer with a pick-axe in 
Washoe may happen upon like good fortune. The 
world is full of poetry as the earth is of " pay-dirt ; " 
one only needs to know how to "strike" it. An 
able man can make himself almost anything that he 
will. It is melancholy to think how many epic poets 
have been lost in the tea-trade, how many dramatists 



so BACKLOG STUDIES 

(though the age of the drama has passed) have 
wasted their genius in great mercantile and me- 
chanical enterprises. I know a man who might 
have been the poet, the essayist, perhaps the critic, 
of this country, who chose to become a county 
judge, to sit day after day upon a bench in an 
obscure corner of the world, Hstening to wrangling 
lawyers and prevaricating witnesses, preferring to 
judge his fellow-men rather than enlighten them. 

It is fortunate for the vanity of the living and the 
reputation of the dead that men get almost as much 
credit for what they do not as for what they do. It 
was the opinion of many that Burns might have ex- 
celled as a statesman, or have been a great captain 
in war ; and Mr. Carlyle says that if he had been 
sent to a university, and become a trained intellec- 
tual workman, it lay in him to have changed the 
whole course of British literature ! A large under- 
taking, as so vigorous and dazzling a writer as Mr. 
Carlyle must know by this time, since British litera- 
ture has swept by him in a resistless and widen- 
ing flood, mainly uncontaminated, and leaving his 
grotesque contrivances wrecked on the shore with 
other curiosities of letters, and yet among the rich- 
est of all the treasures lying there. 

It is a temptation to a temperate man to become 
a sot, to hear what talent, what versatility, what 
genius, is almost always attributed to a moderately 



BACKLOG STUDIES 51 

bright man who is habitually drunk. Such a me- 
chanic, such a mathematician, such a poet, he would 
be if he were only sober ; and then he is sure to be 
the most generous, magnanimous, friendly soul, con- 
scientiously honorable, if he were not so conscien- 
tiously drunk. I suppose it is now notorious that 
the most brilliant and promising men have been lost 
to the world in this way. It is sometimes almost 
painful to think what a surplus of talent and genius 
there would be in the world if the habit of intoxica- 
tion should suddenly cease ; and what a slim chance 
there would be for the plodding people who have 
always had tolerably good habits. The fear is only 
mitigated by the observation that the reputation of 
a person for great talent sometimes ceases with his 
reformation. 

It is believed by some that the maidens who 
would make the best wives never marry, but remain 
free to bless the world with their impartial sweet- 
ness, and make it generally habitable. This is one 
of the mysteries of Providence and New England 
life. It seems a pity, at first sight, that all those 
who become poor wives have the matrimonial 
chance, and that they are deprived of the reputa- 
tion of those who would be good wives were they 
not set apart for the high and perpetual office of 
priestesses of society. There is no beauty like that 
which was spoiled by an accident ; no accomplish- 



52 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ments and graces are so to be envied as those that 
circumstances rudely hindered the development of. 
All of which shows what a charitable and good- 
tempered world it is, notwithstanding its reputation 
for cynicism and detraction. 

Nothing is more beautiful than the belief of the 
faithful wife that her husband has all the talents, 
and could, if he would, be distinguished in any walk 
in life ; and nothing will be more beautiful — unless 
this is a very dry time for signs — than the hus- 
band's belief that his wife is capable of taking 
charge of any of the affairs of this confused planet. 
There is no woman but thinks that her husband, 
the green-grocer, could write poetry if he had given 
his mind to it, or else she thinks small beer of 
poetry in comparison with an occupation or accom- 
plishment purely vegetable. It is touching to see 
the look of pride with which the wife turns to her 
husband from any more brilliant personal presence 
or display of wit than his, in the perfect confidence 
that if the world knew what she knows there would 
be one more popular idol. How she magnifies his 
small wit, and dotes upon the self-satisfied look in 
his face as if it were a sign of wisdom ! What a 
councillor that man would make ! What a warrior 
he would be! There are a great many corporals 
in their retired homes who did more for the safety 
and success of our armies in critical moments, in 



BACKLOG STUDIES 53 

the late war, than any of the " high-cock-a-lorum " 
commanders. Mrs. Corporal does not envy the 
reputation of General Sheridan; she knows very 
well who really won Five Forks, for she has heard 
the story a hundred times, and will hear it a hun- 
dred times more with apparently unabated interest. 
What a general her husband would have made ; and 
how his talking talent would shine in Congress ! 

Herbert. Nonsense. There is n't a wife in 
the world who has not taken the exact measure of 
her husband, weighed him and settled him in her 
own mind, and knows him as well as if she had 
ordered him after designs and specifications of her 
own. That knowledge, however, she ordinarily 
keeps to herself, and she enters into a league with 
her husband, which he was never admitted to the 
secret of, to impose upon the world. In nine out of 
ten cases he more than half believes that he is what 
his wife tells him he is. At any rate, she manages 
him as easily as the keeper does the elephant, with 
only a bamboo wand and a sharp spike in the end. 
Usually she flatters him, but she has the means of 
pricking clear through his hide on occasion. It is 
the great secret of her power to have him think 
that she thoroughly believes in him. 

The Young Lady Staying With Us. And 
you call this hypocrisy ? I have heard authors, who 
thought themselves sly observers of women, call it 
so. 



54 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Herbert. Nothing of the sort. It is the basis 
on which society rests, the conventional agreement. 
If society is about to be overturned, it is on this 
point. Women are beginning to tell men what they 
really think of them ; and to insist that the same 
relations of downright sincerity and independence 
that exist between men shall exist between women 
and men. Absolute truth between souls, without 
regard to sex, has always been the ideal life of the 
poets. 

The Mistress. Yes ; but there was never a 
poet yet who would bear to have his wife say ex- 
actly what she thought of his poetry, any more than 
he would keep his temper if his wife beat him at 
chess ; and there is nothing that disgusts a man 
like getting beaten at chess by a woman. 

Herbert. Well, women know how to win by 
losing. I think that the reason why most women 
do not want to take the ballot, and stand out in 
the open for a free trial of power, is that they are 
reluctant to change the certain domination of cen- 
turies, with weapons they are perfectly competent 
to handle, for an experiment. I think we should be 
better off if women were more transparent, and men 
were not so systematically puffed up by the subtle 
flattery which is used to control them. 

Mandeville. Deliver me from transparency! 
When a woman takes that guise, and begins to con- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 55 

vince me that I can see through her like a ray of 
light, I must run or be lost. Transparent women 
are the truly dangerous. There was one on ship- 
board [Mandeville likes to say that ; he has just 
returned from a little tour in Europe, and he quite 
often begins his remarks with " on the ship going 
over ; " the Young Lady declares that he has a sort 
of roll in his chair, when he says it, that makes her 
seasick] who was the most innocent, artless, guile- 
less, natural bunch of lace and feathers you ever 
saw ; she was all candor and helplessness and de- 
pendence ; she sang like a nightingale, and talked 
like a nun. There never was such simplicity. There 
wasn't a sounding-line on board that would have 
gone to the bottom of her soulful eyes. But she 
managed the captain and all the officers, and con- 
trolled the ship as if she had been the helm. All 
the passengers were waiting on her, fetching this 
and that for her comfort, inquiring of her health, 
talking about her genuineness, and exhibiting as 
much anxiety to get her ashore in safety as if she 
had been about to knight them all and give them a 
castle apiece when they came to land. 

The Mistress. What harm } It shows what I 
have always said, that the service of a noble woman 
is the most ennobling influence for men. 

Mandeville. If she is noble, and not a mere 
manager. I watched this woman to see if she would 



56 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ever do anything for any one else. She never 
did. 

The Fire-Tender. Did you ever see her again > 
I presume Mandeville has introduced her here for 
some purpose. 

Mandeville. No purpose. But we did see her 
on the Rhine ; she was the most disgusted traveler, 
and seemed to be in very ill humor with her maid. 
I judged that her happiness depended upon estab- 
lishing controlling relations with all about her. On 
this Rhine boat, to be sure, there was reason for 
disgust. And that reminds me of a remark that 
was made. 

The Young Lady. Oh ! 

Mandeville. When we got aboard at Mayence 
we were conscious of a dreadful odor somewhere ; 
as it was a foggy morning, we could see no cause 
of it, but concluded it was from something on the 
wharf. The fog lifted, and we got under way, but 
the odor traveled with us, and increased. We went 
to every part of the vessel to avoid it, but in vain. 
It occasionally reached us in great waves of dis- 
agreeableness. We had heard of the odors of the 
towns on the Rhine, but we had no idea that the 
entire stream was infected. It was intolerable. 

The day was lovely, and the passengers stood 
about on deck holding their noses and admiring the 
scenery. You might see a row of them leaning 



BACKLOG STUDIES 57 

over the side, gazing up at some old ruin or ivied 
crag, entranced with the romance of the situation, 
and all holding their noses with thumb and finger. 
The sweet Rhine ! By and by somebody discovered 
that the odor came from a pile of cheese on the for- 
ward deck, covered with a canvas ; it seemed that 
the Rhinelanders are so fond of it that they take 
it with them when they travel. If there should ever 
be war between us and Germany, the borders of the 
Rhine would need no other defense from American 
soldiers than a barricade of this cheese. I went to 
the stern of the steamboat to tell a stout American 
traveller what was the origin of the odor he had 
been trying to dodge all the morning. He looked 
more disgusted than before when he heard that it 
was cheese ; but his only reply was : " It must be a 
merciful God who can forgive a smell like that ! " 

II 

The above is introduced here in order to illustrate 
the usual effect of an anecdote on conversation. 
Commonly it kills it. That talk must be very well 
in hand, and under great headway, that an anecdote 
thrown in front of will not pitch off the track and 
wreck. And it makes little difference what the 
anecdote is : a poor one depresses the spirits, and 
casts a gloom over the company ; a good one be- 
gets others, and the talkers go to telling stories ; 



58 BACKLOG STUDIES 

which is very good entertainment in moderation, 
but is not to be mistaken for that unwearying flow 
of argument, quaint remark, humorous color, and 
sprightly interchange of sentiments and opinions, 
called conversation. 

The reader will perceive that all hope is gone 
here of deciding whether Herbert could have writ- 
ten Tennyson's poems, or whether Tennyson could 
have dug as much money out of the Heliogabalus 
Lode as Herbert did. The more one sees of life, I 
think the impression deepens that men, after all, 
play about the parts assigned them, according to 
their mental and moral gifts, which are limited and 
preordained, and that their entrances and exits are 
governed by a law no less certain because it is hid- 
den. Perhaps nobody ever accomplishes all that he 
feels lies in him to do ; but nearly every one who 
tries his powers touches the walls of his being oc- 
casionally, and learns about how far to attempt to 
spring. There are no impossibilities to youth and 
inexperience ; but when a person has tried several 
times to reach high C and been coughed down, he 
is quite content to go down among the chorus. It 
is only the fools who keep straining at high C all 
their lives. 

Mandeville here began to say that that reminded 
him of something that happened when he was on 
the — 



BACKLOG STUDIES 59 

But Herbert cut in with the observation that no 
matter what a man's single and several capacities 
and talents might be, he is controlled by his own 
mysterious individuality, which is what metaphysi- 
cians call the substance, all else being the mere acci- 
dents of the man. And this is the reason that we 
cannot with any certainty tell what any person will 
do or amount to, for, while we know his talents and 
abilities, we do not know the resulting whole, which 
is he himself. 

The Fire-Tender. So if you could take all the 
first-class qualities that we admire in men and wo- 
men, and put them together into one being, you 
would n't be sure of the result } 

Herbert. Certainly not. You would probably 
have a monster. It takes a cook of long experience, 
with the best materials, to make a dish "taste 
good;" and the "taste good" is the indefinable 
essence, the resulting balance or harmony which 
makes man or woman agreeable, or beautiful, or 
effective in the world. 

The Young Lady. That must be the reason 
why novelists fail so lamentably in almost all cases 
in creating good characters. They put in real traits, 
talents, dispositions, but the result of the synthesis 
is something that never was seen on earth before. 

The Fire-Tender. Oh, a good character in 
fiction is an inspiration. We admit this in poetry. 



6o BACKLOG STUDIES 

It is as true of such creations as Colonel Newcome, 
and Ethel, and Beatrix Esmond. There is no 
patchwork about them. 

The Young Lady. Why was n't Thackeray 
ever inspired to create a noble woman ? 

The Fire-Tender. That is the standing conun- 
drum with all the women. They will not accept 
Ethel Newcome even. Perhaps we shall have to 
admit that Thackeray was a writer for men. 

Herbert. Scott and the rest had drawn so 
many perfect women that Thackeray thought it 
was time for a real one. 

The Mistress. That 's ill-natured. Thackeray 
did, however, make ladies. If he had depicted, with 
his searching pen, any of us just as we are, I doubt 
if we should have liked it much. 

Mandeville. That 's just it. Thackeray never 
pretended to make ideals, and if the best novel is 
an idealization of human nature, then he was not 
the best novelist. When I was crossing the Chan- 
nel — 

The Mistress. Oh dear, if we are to go to sea 
again, Mandeville, I move we have in the nuts and 
apples, and talk about our friends. 

Ill 

There is this advantage in getting back to a wood 
fire on the hearth, that you return to a kind of sim- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 6i 

plicity ; you can scarcely imagine any one being 
stiffly conventional in front of it. It thaws out for- 
mality, and puts the company who sit around it into 
easy attitudes of mind and body, — lounging atti- 
tudes, Herbert said. 

And this brought up the subject of culture in 
America, especially as to manner. The backlog 
period having passed, we are beginning to have in 
society people of the cultured manner, as it is called, 
or polished bearing, in which the polish is the most 
noticeable thing about the man. Not the courtliness, 
the easy simplicity, of the old-school gentleman, in 
whose presence the milkmaid was as much at her 
ease as the countess, but something far finer than 
this. These are the people of unruffled demeanor, 
who never forget it for a moment, and never let you 
forget it. Their presence is a constant rebuke to 
society. They are never "jolly;" their laugh is 
never anything more than a well-bred smile ; they 
are never betrayed into any enthusiasm. Enthusi- 
asm is a sign of inexperience, of ignorance, of want 
of culture. They never lose themselves in any 
cause ; they never heartily praise any man or woman 
or book ; they are superior to all tides of feeling 
and all outbursts of passion. They are not even 
shocked at vulgarity. They are simply indifferent. 
They are calm, visibly calm, painfully calm ; and it 
is not the eternal, majestic calmness of the Sphinx 



62 BACKLOG STUDIES 

either, but a rigid, self-conscious repression. You 
would like to put a bent pin in their chair when 
they are about calmly to sit down. 

A sitting hen on her nest is calm, but hopeful ; 
she has faith that her eggs are not china. These 
people appear to be sitting on china eggs. Perfect 
culture has refined all blood, warmth, flavor, out of 
them. We admire them without envy. They are 
too beautiful in their manners to be either prigs or 
snobs. They are at once our models and our de- 
spair. They are properly careful of themselves as 
models, for they know that if they should break, 
society would become a scene of mere animal con- 
fusion. 

Mandeville. I think that the best-bred people 
in the world are the English. 

The Young Lady. You mean at home. 

Mandeville. That's where I saw them.^ 
There is no nonsense about a cultivated English 
man or woman. They express themselves sturdily 
and naturally, and with no subservience to the opin- 
ions of others. There 's a sort of hearty sincerity 
about them that I like. Ages of culture on the 
island have gone deeper than the surface, and they 
have simpler and more natural manners than we. 

^ Mandeville once spent a week in London, riding about on the 
tops of omnibuses. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 63 

There is something good in the full, round tones of 
their voices. 

Herbert. Did you ever get into a diligence 
with a growling Englishman who had n't secured 
the place he wanted ? 

The Mistress. Did you ever see an English 
exquisite at the San Carlo, and hear him cry 
" Bwavo " > 

Mandeville. At any rate, he acted out his 
nature, and was n't afraid to. 

The Fire-Tender. I think Mandeville is right, 
for once. The men of the best culture in England, 
in the middle and higher social classes, are what 
you would call good fellows, — easy and simple in 
manner, enthusiastic on occasion, and decidedly not 
cultivated into the smooth calmness of indifference 
which some Americans seem to regard as the sine 
qua non of good breeding. Their position is so 
assured that they do not need that lacquer of calm- 
ness of which we were speaking. 

The Young Lady. Which is different from the 
manner acquired by those who live a great deal in 
American hotels t 

The Mistress. Or the Washington manner } 

Herbert. The last two are the same. 

The Fire-Tender. Not exactly. You think 
you can always tell if a man has learned his society 
carriage of a dancing - master. Well, you cannot 



64 BACKLOG STUDIES 

always tell by a person's manner whether he is a 
habitu^ of hotels or of Washington. But these are 
distinct from the perfect polish and politeness of 
indifferentism. 

IV 

Daylight disenchants. It draws one from the 
fireside, and dissipates the idle illusions of conver- 
sation, except under certain conditions. Let us say 
that the conditions are — a house in the country, 
with some forest-trees near, and a few evergreens, 
which are Christmas-trees all winter long, fringed 
with snow, glistening with ice-pendants, cheerful by 
day and grotesque by night ; a snowstorm begin- 
ning out of a dark sky, falling in a soft profusion 
that fills all the air, its dazzling whiteness making a 
light near at hand, which is quite lost in the distant 
darkling spaces. 

If one begins to watch the swirling flakes and 
crystals, he soon gets an impression of infinity of 
resources that he can have from nothing else so 
powerfully, except it be from Adirondack gnats. 
Nothing makes one feel at home like a great snow- 
storm. Our intelligent cat will quit the fire and sit 
for hours in the low window, watching the fall- 
ing snow with a serious and contented air. His 
thoughts are his own, but he is in accord with the 
subtlest agencies of Nature ; on such a day he is 



BACKLOG STUDIES 65 

charged with enough electricity to run a telegraphic 
battery, if it could be utilized. The connection be- 
tween thought and electricity has not been exactly 
determined, but the cat is mentally very alert in 
certain conditions of the atmosphere. Feasting his 
eyes on the beautiful outdoors does not prevent 
his attention to the slightest noise in the wain- 
scot. And the snowstorm brings content, but not 
stupidity, to all the rest of the household. 

I can see Mandeville now, rising from his arm- 
chair and swinging his long arms as he strides to 
the window, and looks out and up, with " Well, I 
declare ! " Herbert is pretending to read Herbert 
Spencer's tract on the philosophy of style ; but he 
loses much time in looking at the Young Lady, 
who is writing a letter, holding her portfolio in her 
lap, — one of her everlasting letters to one of her 
fifty everlasting friends. She is one of the female 
patriots who save the post-office department from 
being a disastrous loss to the treasury. Herbert is 
thinking of the great radical difference in the two 
sexes, which legislation will probably never change, 
that leads a woman always to write letters on her 
lap and a man on a table, — a distinction which is 
commended to the notice of the anti-suffragists. 

The Mistress, in a pretty little breakfast-cap, is 
moving about the room with a feather-duster, whisk- 
ing invisible dust from the picture-frames, and talk- 



66 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ing with the Parson, who has just come in, and is 
thawing the snow from his boots on the hearth. 
The Parson says the thermometer is 15°, and going 
down; that there is a snowdrift across the main 
church entrance three feet high, and that the house 
looks as if it had gone into winter quarters, reli- 
gion and all. There were only ten persons at the 
conference meeting last night, and seven of those 
were women ; he wonders how many weather-proof 
Christians there are in the parish, anyhow. 

The Fire-Tender is in the adjoining library, pre- 
tending to write ; but it is a poor day for ideas. He 
has written his wife's name about eleven hundred 
times, and cannot get any farther. He hears the 
Mistress tell the Parson that she believes he is try- 
ing to write a lecture on the Celtic Influence in 
Literature. The Parson says that it is a first-rate 
subject, if there were any such influence, and asks 
why he does n't take a shovel and make a path to 
the gate. Mandeville says that, by George ! he 
himself should like no better fun, but it would n't 
look well for a visitor to do it. The Fire-Tender, 
not to be disturbed by this sort of chaff, keeps on 
writing his wife's name. 

Then the Parson and the Mistress fall to talking 
about the soup-relief, and about old Mrs. Crumples 
in Pig Alley, who had a present of one of Stowe's 
Illustrated Self-Acting Bibles on Christmas, when 



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BACKLOG STUDIES 67 

she had n't coal enough in the house to heat her 
gruel ; and about a family behind the church, a 
widow and six little children and three dogs, and he 
did n't believe that any of them had known what 
it was to be warm in three weeks, and as to food, 
the woman said, she could hardly beg cold victuals 
enough to keep the dogs alive. 

The Mistress slipped out into the kitchen to fill 
a basket with provisions and send it somewhere ; 
and when the Fire-Tender brought in a new fore- 
stick, Mandeville, who always wants to talk, and 
had been sitting drumming his feet and drawing 
deep sighs, attacked him. 

Mandeville. Speaking about culture and man- 
ners, did you ever notice how extremes meet, and 
that the savage bears himself very much like the sort 
of cultured persons we were talking of last night ? 

The Fire-Tender. In what respect } 

Mandeville. Well, you take the North Ameri- 
can Indian. He is never interested in anything, 
never surprised at anything. He has by nature 
that calmness and indifference which your people 
of culture have acquired. If he should go into 
literature as a critic, he would scalp and tomahawk 
with the same emotionless composure, and he would 
do nothing else. 

The Fire-Tender. Then you think the red 
man is a born gentleman of the highest breeding } 



6S BACKLOG STUDIES 

Mandeville. I think he is calm. 

The Fire-Tender. How is it about the war- 
path and all that ? 

Mandeville. Oh, these studiously calm and 
cultured people may have malice underneath. It 
takes them to give the most effective ''little digs ; " 
they know how to stick in the pine-splinters and set 
fire to them. 

Herbert. But there is more in Mandeville's 
idea. You bring a red man into a picture-gallery, 
or a city full of fine architecture, or into a drawing- 
room crowded with objects of art and beauty, and 
he is apparently insensible to them all. Now I 
have seen country people, — and by country people 
I don't mean people necessarily who live in the 
country, for everything is mixed in these days, — 
some of the best people in the world, intelligent, 
honest, sincere, who acted as the Indian would. 

The Mistress. Herbert, if I did n't know you 
were cynical, I should say you were snobbish. 

Herbert. Such people think it a point of breed- 
ing never to speak of anything in your house, nor 
appear to notice it, however beautiful it may be ; 
even to slyly glance around strains their notion of 
etiquette. They are like the countryman who con- 
fessed afterwards that he could hardly keep from 
laughing at one of Yankee Hill's entertainments. 

The Young Lady. Do you remember those 



BACKLOG STUDIES 69 

English people at our house in Flushing last sum- 
mer, who pleased us all so much with their apparent 
delight in everything that was artistic, or taste- 
ful, who explored the rooms and looked at every- 
thing, and were so interested ? I suppose that Her- 
bert's country relations, many of whom live in the 
city, would have thought it very ill-bred. 

Mandeville. It *s just as I said. The English, 
the best of them, have become so civilized that they 
express themselves, in speech and action, naturally, 
and are not afraid of their emotions. 

The Parson. I wish Mandeville would travel 
more, or that he had stayed at home. It 's wonder- 
ful what a fit of Atlantic seasickness will do for a 
man's judgment and cultivation. He is prepared 
to pronounce on art, manners, all kinds of culture. 
There is more nonsense talked about culture than 
about anything else. 

Herbert. The Parson reminds me of an Ameri- 
can country minister I once met walking through 
the Vatican. You could n't impose upon him with 
any rubbish ; he tested everything by the standards 
of his native place, and there was little that could 
bear the test. He had the sly air of a man who 
could not be deceived, and he went about with his 
mouth in a pucker of incredulity. There is nothing 
so placid as rustic conceit. There was something 
very enjoyable about his calm superiority to all the 
treasures of art. 



70 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Mandeville. And the Parson reminds me of 
another American minister, a consul in an Italian 
city, who said he was going up to Rome to have a 
thorough talk with the Pope, and give him a piece 
of his mind. Ministers seem to think that is their 
business. They serve it in such small pieces in 
order to make it go round. 

The Parson. Mandeville is an infidel. Come, 
let 's have some music ; nothing else will keep him 
in good humor till lunch-time. 

The Mistress. What shall it be } 

The Parson. Give us the larghetto from Bee- 
thoven's second symphony. 

The Young Lady puts aside her portfolio. Her- 
bert looks at the young lady. The Parson com- 
poses himself for critical purposes. Mandeville 
settles himself in a chair and stretches his long 
legs nearly into the fire, remarking that music takes 
the tangles out of him. 

After the piece is finished, lunch is announced. 
It is still snowing. 



FOURTH STUDY 




FOURTH STUDY 



IT is difficult to explain the attraction which the 
uncanny and even the horrible have for most 
minds. I have seen a delicate woman half 
fascinated, but wholly disgusted, by one of the most 
unseemly of reptiles, vulgarly known as the "blowing 
viper " of the AUeghanies. She would look at it, 
and turn away with irresistible shuddering and the 
utmost loathing, and yet turn to look at it again and 
again, only to experience the same spasm of disgust. 
In spite of her aversion, she must have relished the 
sort of electric mental shock that the sight gave her. 



74 BACKLOG STUDIES 

I can no more account for the fascination for us 
of the stories of ghosts and "appearances," and 
those weird tales in which the dead are the chief 
characters; nor tell why we should fall into con- 
verse about them when the winter evenings are far 
spent, the embers are glazing over on the hearth, 
and the listener begins to hear the eerie noises in 
the house. At such times one's dreams become of 
importance, and people like to tell them and dwell 
upon them, as if they were a link between the 
known and unknown, and could give us a clue to 
that ghostly region which in certain states of the 
mind we feel to be more real than that we see. 

Recently, when we were, so to say, sitting around 
the borders of the supernatural late at night, Man- 
deville related a dream of his which he assured us 
was true in every particular, and it interested us so 
much that we asked him to write it out. In doing 
so he has curtailed it, and to my mind shorn it 
of some of its more vivid and picturesque features. 
He might have worked it up with more art, and 
given it a finish which the narration now lacks, but 
I think best to insert it in its simplicity. It seems 
to me that it may properly be called — 

A NEW "VISION OF SIN." 

In the winter of 1850 I was a member of one of 
the leading colleges of this country. I was in mod- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 75 

erate circumstances pecuniarily, though I was per- 
haps better furnished with less fleeting riches than 
many others. I was an incessant and indiscriminate 
reader of books. For the solid sciences I had no 
particular fancy, but with mental modes and habits, 
and especially with the eccentric and fantastic in 
the intellectual and spiritual operations, I was toler- 
ably familiar. All the literature of the supernatural 
was as real to me as the laboratory of the chem- 
ist, where I saw the continual struggle of material 
substances to evolve themselves into more volatile, 
less palpable and coarse forms. My imagination, 
naturally vivid, stimulated by such repasts, nearly 
mastered me. At times I could scarcely tell where 
the material ceased and the immaterial began (if I 
may so express it) ; so that once and again I walked, 
as it seemed, from the solid earth onward, upon an 
impalpable plain, where I heard the same voices, 
I think, that Joan of Arc heard call to her in the 
garden at Domremy. She was inspired, however, 
while I only lacked exercise. I do not mean this in 
any literal sense ; I only describe a state of mind. I 
was at this time of spare habit and nervous, excit- 
able temperament. I was ambitious, proud, and 
extremely sensitive. I cannot deny that I had seen 
something of the world, and had contracted about 
the average bad habits of young men who have the 
sole care of themselves, and rather bungle the mat- 



jS BACKLOG STUDIES 

ter. It is necessary to this relation to admit that I 
had seen a trifle more of what is called life than a 
young man ought to see, but at this period I was 
not only sick of my experience, but my habits were 
as correct as those of any Pharisee in our college, 
and we had some very favorable specimens of that 
ancient sect. 

Nor can I deny that at this period of my life I 
was in a peculiar mental condition. I well remem- 
ber an illustration of it. I sat writing late one 
night, copying a prize essay, — a merely manual 
task, leaving my thoughts free. It was in June, 
a sultry night, and about midnight a wind arose, 
pouring in through the open windows, full of mourn- 
ful reminiscence, not of this, but of other summers, 

— the same wind that De Quincey heard at noon- 
day in midsummer blowing through the room where 
he stood, a mere boy, by the side of his dead sister, 

— a wind centuries old. As I wrote on mechani- 
cally, I became conscious of 2l presence in the room, 
though I did not lift my eyes from the paper on 
which I wrote. Gradually I came to know that my 
grandmother — dead so long ago that I laughed at 
the idea — was in the room. She stood beside her 
old-fashioned spinning-wheel, and quite near me. 
She wore a plain muslin cap with a high puff in the 
crown, a short woollen gown, a white and blue 
checked apron, and shoes with heels. She did not 



BACKLOG STUDIES 77 

regard me, but stood facing the wheel, with the left 
hand near the spindle, holding lightly between the 
thumb and forefinger the white roll of wool which 
was being spun and twisted on it. In her right 
hand she held a small stick. I heard the sharp 
click of this against the spokes of the wheel, then 
the hum of the wheel, the buzz of the spindles as 
the twisting yarn was teased by the whirl of its 
point, then a step backward, a pause, a step forward 
and the running of the yam upon the spindle, and 
again a backward step, the drawing out of the roll, 
and the droning and hum of the wheel, — most 
mournful, hopeless sound that ever fell on mortal 
ear. Since childhood it has haunted me. All this 
time I wrote, and I could hear distinctly the scratch- 
ing of the pen upon the paper. But she stood be- 
hind me (why I did not turn my head I never knew), 
pacing backward and forward by the spinning-wheel, 
just as I had a hundred times seen her in childhood 
in the old kitchen on drowsy summer afternoons. 
And I heard the step, the buzz and whirl of the 
spindle, and the monotonous and dreary hum of the 
mournful wheel. Whether her face was ashy pale 
and looked as if it might crumble at the touch, and 
the border of her white cap trembled in the June 
wind that blew, I cannot say, for I tell you I did 
NOT see her. But I know she was there, spinning 
yarn that had been knit into hose years and years 



78' BACKLOG STUDIES 

ago by our fireside. For I was in full possession of 
my faculties, and never copied more neatly and legi- 
bly any manuscript than I did the one that night. 
And there the phantom (I use the word out of de- 
ference to a public prejudice on this subject) most 
persistently remained until my task was finished, 
and, closing the portfolio, I abruptly rose. Did I 
see anything ? That is a silly and ignorant question. 
Could I see the wind which had now risen stronger, 
and drove a few cloud-scuds across the sky, filling 
the night, somehow, with a longing that was not 
altogether born of reminiscence ? 

In the winter following, in January, I made an 
effort to give up the use of tobacco, — a habit in 
which I was confirmed, and of which I have nothing 
more to say than this : that I should attribute to it 
almost all the sin and misery in the world, did I not 
remember that the old Romans attained a very con- 
siderable state of corruption without the assistance 
of the Virginia plant. 

On the night of the third day of my abstinence, 
rendered more nervous and excitable than usual by 
the privation, I retired late, and later still I fell into 
an uneasy sleep, and thus into a dream, vivid, illumi- 
nated, more real than any event of my life. I was 
at home, and fell sick. The illness developed into 
a fever, and then a delirium set in ; not an intellec- 
tual blank, but a misty and most delicious wander- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 79 

ing in places of incomparable beauty. I learned 
subsequently that our regular physician was not 
certain to finish me, when a consultation was called, 
which did the business. I have the satisfaction of 
knowing that they were of the proper school. I 
lay sick for three days. 

On the morning of the fourth, at sunrise, I died. 

The sensation was not unpleasant. It was not a 
sudden shock. I passed out of my body as one 
would walk from the door of his house. There the 
body lay, — a blank, so far as I was concerned, 
and only interesting to me as I was rather enter- 
tained with watching the respect paid to it. My 
friends stood about the bedside, regarding me (as 
they seemed to suppose), while I, in a different part 
of the room, could hardly repress a smile at their 
mistake, solemnized as they were, and I too, for 
that matter, by my recent demise. A sensation 
(the word you see is material and inappropriate) 
of etherealization and imponderability pervaded me, 
and I was not sorry to get rid of such a dull, slow 
mass as I now perceived myself to be, lying there 
on the bed. When I speak of my death, let me be 
understood to say that there was no change, except 
that I passed out of my body and floated to the 
top of a bookcase in the corner of the room, from 
which I looked down. For a moment I was inter- 
ested to see my person from the outside, but there- 



So BACKLOG STUDIES 

after I was quite indifferent to the body. I was 
now simply soul. I seemed to be a globe, impal- 
pable, transparent, about six inches in diameter. 
I saw and heard everything as before. Of course, 
matter was no obstacle to me, and I went easily 
and quickly wherever I willed to go. There was 
none of that tedious process of communicating my 
wishes to the nerves, and from them to the mus- 
cles. I simply resolved to be at a particular place 
and I was there. It was better than the tele- 
graph. 

It seemed to have been intimated to me at my 
death (birth I half incline to call it) that I could 
remain on this earth for four weeks after my de- 
cease, during which time I could amuse myself as I 
chose. 

I chose, in the first place, to see myself decently 
buried, to stay by myself to the last, and attend 
my own funeral for once. As most of those re- 
ferred to in this true narrative are still living, I am 
forbidden to indulge in personalities, nor shall I 
dare to say exactly how my death affected my 
friends, even the home circle. Whatever others 
did, I sat up with myself and kept awake. I saw 
the " pennies " used instead of the '* quarters " 
which I should have preferred. I saw myself " laid 
out," a phrase that has come to have such a slang 
meaning that I smile as I write it. When the 



BACKLOG STUDIES 8i 

body was put into the coffin I took my place on 
the Hd. 

I cannot recall all the details, and they are com- 
monplace besides. The funeral took place at the 
church. We all rode thither in carriages, and I, 
not fancying my place in mine, rode on the outside 
with the undertaker, whom I found to be a good 
deal more jolly than he looked to be. The coffin 
was placed in front of the pulpit when we arrived. 
I took my station on the pulpit cushion, from which 
elevation I had an admirable view of all the cere- 
monies, and could hear the sermon. How dis- 
tinctly I remember the services ! I think I could 
even at this distance write out the sermon. The 
tune sung was of the usual country selection, — 
Mount Vernon. I recall the text. I was rather 
flattered by the tribute paid to me, and my future 
was spoken of gravely and as kindly as possible, — 
indeed, with remarkable charity, considering that 
the minister was not aware of my presence. I used 
to beat him at chess, and I thought, even then, of 
the last game ; for, however solemn the occasion 
might be to others, it was not so to me. With 
what interest I watched my kinsfolk and neighbors 
as they filed past for the last look ! I saw, and I 
remember, who pulled a long face for the occasion 
and who exhibited genuine sadness. I learned 
with the most dreadful certainty what people really 



82 BACKLOG STUDIES 

thought of me. It was a revelation never for- 
gotten. 

Several particular acquaintances of mine were 
talking on the steps as we passed out. 

" Well, old Starr 's gone up. Sudden, was n't it ? 
He was a first-rate fellow." 

" Yes ; queer about some things, but he had some 
mighty good streaks," said another. And so they 
ran on. 

Streaks ! So that is the reputation one gets 
during twenty years of life in this world. Streaks ! 

After the funeral I rode home with the family. 
It was pleasanter than the ride down, though it 
seemed sad to my relations. They did not mention 
me, however, and I may remark that, although I 
stayed about home for a week, I never heard my 
name mentioned by any of the family. Arrived 
at home, the teakettle was put on, and supper got 
ready. This seemed to lift the gloom a little, and 
under the influence of the tea they brightened up, 
and gradually got more cheerful. They discussed 
the sermon and the singing, and the mistake of the 
sexton in digging the grave in the wrong place, and 
the large congregation. From the mantelpiece I 
watched the group. They had waffles for supper, 
— of which I had been exceedingly fond, but now 
I saw them disappear without a sigh. 

For the first day or two of my sojourn at home I 



BACKLOG STUDIES 83 

was here and there at all the neighbors', and heard 
a good deal about my life and character, some of 
which was not very pleasant, but very wholesome, 
doubtless, for me to hear. At the expiration of 
a week this amusement ceased to be such, for I 
ceased to be talked of. I realized the fact that I 
was dead and gone. 

By an act of volition I found myself back at 
college. I floated into my own room, which was 
empty. I went to the room of my two warmest 
friends, whose friendship I was, and am yet, assured 
of. As usual, half a dozen of our set were lounging 
there. A game of whist was just commencing. I 
perched on a bust of Dante on the top of the book- 
shelves, where I could see two of the hands and 
give a good guess at a third. My particular friend 
Timmins was just shuffling the cards. 

" Be hanged if it is n't lonesome without old 
Starr. Did you cut.? I should like to see him 
lounge in now with his pipe, and with feet on the 
mantelpiece proceed to expound on the duplex 
functions of the soul." 

"There — misdeal!" said his vis-a-vis. **Hope 
there 's been no misdeal for old Starr." 

" Spades, did you say t " the talk ran on. " I 
never knew Starr was sickly.*' 

" No more was he ; stouter than you are, and as 
brave and plucky as he was strong. By George, 



84 BACKLOG STUDIES 

fellows, how we do get cut down ! Last term 
little Stubbs, and now one of the best fellows in 
the class." 

" How suddenly he did pop off, — one for game, 
honors easy, — he was good for the Spouts' Medal 
this year, too." 

"Remember the joke he played on Prof. A., 
freshman year ? " asked another. 

" Remember he borrowed ten dollars of me about 
that time," said Timmins's partner, gathering the 
cards for a new deal. 

"Guess he is the only one who ever did," re- 
torted some one. 

And so the talk went on, mingled with whist- 
talk, reminiscent of me, not all exactly what I would 
have chosen to go into my biography, but on the 
whole kind and tender, after the fashion of the 
boys. At least I was in their thoughts, and I could 
see was a good deal regretted, — so I passed a very 
pleasant evening. Most of those present were of 
my society, and wore crape on their badges, and all 
wore the usual crape on the left arm. I learned 
that the following afternoon a eulogy would be de- 
livered on me in the chapel. 

The eulogy was delivered before members of 
our society and others, the next afternoon, in the 
chapel. I need not say that I was present. In- 
deed, I was perched on the desk, within reach 



BACKLOG STUDIES 85 

of the speaker's hand. The apotheosis was pro- 
nounced by my most intimate friend, Timmins, and 
I must say he did me ample justice. He never was 
accustomed to " draw it very mild " (to use a vul- 
garism which I dislike) when he had his head, and 
on this occasion he entered into the matter with 
the zeal of a true friend, and a young man who 
never expected to have another occasion to sing a 
public " In Memoriam." It made my hair stand on 
end, — metaphorically, of course. From my child- 
hood I had been extremely precocious. There were 
anecdotes of preternatural brightness, picked up 
Heaven knows where, of my eagerness to learn, 
of my adventurous, chivalrous young soul, and of 
my arduous struggles with chill penury, which was 
not able (as it appeared) to repress my rage, until 
I entered this institution, of which I had been 
ornament, pride, cynosure, and fair promising bud 
blasted while yet its fragrance was mingled with 
the dew of its youth. Once launched upon my col- 
lege days, Timmins went on with all sails spread. 
I had, as it were, to hold on to the pulpit-cushion. 
Latin, Greek, the old literatures, I was perfect 
master of ; all history was merely a light repast to 
me ; mathematics I glanced at, and it disappeared ; 
in the clouds of modern philosophy I was wrapped, 
but not obscured ; over the field of light literature 
I familiarly roamed as the honey-bee over the wide 



S6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

fields of clover which blossom white in the Junes 
of this world ! My life was pure, my character 
spotless, my name was inscribed among the names 
of those deathless few who were not born to die ! 

It was a noble eulogy, and I felt before he fin- 
ished, though I had misgivings at the beginning, 
that I deserved it all. The effect on the audience 
was a little different. They said it was a " strong " 
oration, and I think Timmins got more credit by it 
than I did. After the performance they stood about 
the chapel, talking in a subdued tone, and seemed to 
be a good deal impressed by what they had heard, or 
perhaps by thoughts of the departed. At least they 
all soon went over to Austin's and called for beer. 
My particular friends called for it twice. Then 
they all lit pipes. The old grocery keeper was 
good enough to say that I was no fool, if I did go 
off owing him four dollars. To the credit of human 
nature, let me here record that the fellows were 
touched by his remark reflecting upon my memory, 
and immediately made up a purse and paid the bill ; 
that is, they told the old man to charge it over to 
them. College boys are rich in credit and the pos- 
sibilities of life. 

It is needless to dwell upon the days I passed at 
college during this probation. So far as I could 
see, everything went on as if I were there or 
had never been there. I could not even see the 



BACKLOG STUDIES ^7 

place where I had dropped out of the ranks. Oc- 
casionally I heard my name, but I must say that 
four weeks was quite long enough to stay in a 
world that had pretty much forgotten me. There 
is no great satisfaction in being dragged up to 
light now and then, like an old letter. The case 
was somewhat different with the people with whom 
I had boarded. They were relations of mine, and I 
often saw them weep, and they talked of me a good 
deal at twilight and Sunday nights, especially the 
youngest one, Carrie, who was handsomer than any 
one I knew, and not much older than I. I never 
used to imagine that she cared particularly for me, 
nor would she have done so if I had lived, but death 
brought with it a sort of sentimental regret, which, 
with the help of a daguerreotype, she nursed into 
quite a little passion. I spent most of my time 
there, for it was more congenial than the college. 

But time hastened. The last sand of probation 
leaked out of the glass. One day, while Carrie 
played (for me, though she knew it not) one of 
Mendelssohn's " songs without words," I suddenly, 
yet gently, without self-effort or volition, moved 
from the house, floated in the air, rose higher, 
higher, by an easy, delicious, exultant, yet incon- 
ceivably rapid motion. The ecstasy of that trium- 
phant flight ! Groves, trees, houses, the landscape, 
dimmed, faded, fled away beneath me. Upward 



SS BACKLOG STUDIES 

mounting, as on angels' wings, with no effort, till 
the earth hung beneath me — a round black ball 
swinging, remote, in the universal ether. Upward 
mounting, till the earth, no longer bathed in the 
sun's rays, went out to my sight, — disappeared in 
the blank. Constellations, before seen from afar, I 
sailed among. Stars, too remote for shining on 
earth, I neared, and found to be round globes fly- 
ing through space with a velocity only equaled by 
my own. New worlds continually opened on my 
sight ; new fields of everlasting space opened and 
closed behind me. 

For days and days — it seemed a mortal forever 
— I mounted up the great heavens, whose everlast- 
ing doors swung wide. How the worlds and sys- 
tems, stars, constellations, neared me, blazed and 
flashed in splendor, and fled away ! At length — 
was it not a thousand years ? — I saw before me, 
yet afar off, a wall, the rocky bourn of that country 
whence travelers come not back, a battlement 
wider than I could guess, the height of which I 
could not see, the depth of which was infinite. As 
I approached, it shone with a splendor never yet 
beheld on earth. Its solid substance was built of 
jewels the rarest and stones of priceless value. It 
seemed like one solid stone, and yet all the colors 
of the rainbow were contained in it. The ruby, 
the diamond, the emerald, the carbuncle, the topaz, 



BACKLOG STUDIES 89 

the amethyst, the sapphire : of them the wall was 
built up in harmonious combination. So brilliant 
was it that all the space I floated in was full of the 
splendor. So mild was it and so translucent that I 
could look for miles into its clear depths. 

Rapidly nearing this heavenly battlement, an im- 
mense niche was disclosed in its solid face. The 
floor was one large ruby. Its sloping sides were 
of pearl. Before I was aware I stood within the 
brilliant recess. I say I stood there, for I was 
there bodily, in my habit as I lived ; how, I cannot 
explain. Was it the resurrection of the body } 
Before me rose, a thousand feet in height, a won- 
derful gate of flashing diamond. Beside it sat a ven- 
erable man, with long white beard, a robe of light 
gray, ancient sandals, and a golden key hanging by 
a cord from his waist. In the serene beauty of his 
noble features I saw justice and mercy had met 
and were reconciled. I cannot describe the ma- 
jesty of his bearing or the benignity of his appear- 
ance. It is needless to say that I stood before St. 
Peter, who sits at the Celestial Gate. 

I humbly approached, and begged admission. 
St. Peter arose, and regarded me kindly, yet in- 
quiringly. 

"What is your name," asked he, "and from 
what place do you come ? " 

I answered, and, wishing to give a name well 



90 BACKLOG STUDIES 

known, said I was from Washington, United States. 
He looked doubtful, as if he had never heard the 
name before. 

"Give me," said he, "a full account of your 
whole life." 

I felt instantaneously that there Was no conceal- 
ment possible ; all disguise fell away, and an un- 
known power forced me to speak absolute and 
exact truth. I detailed the events of my life as 
well as I could, and the good man was not a little 
affected by the recital of my early trials, poverty, 
and temptation. It did not seem a very good life 
when spread out in that presence, and I trembled 
as I proceeded ; but I pleaded youth, inexperience, 
and bad examples. 

"Have you been accustomed," he said, after a 
time, rather sadly, " to break the Sabbath } " 

I told him frankly that I had been rather lax in 
that matter, especially at college. I often went 
to sleep in the chapel on Sunday, when I was not 
reading some entertaining book. He then asked 
who the preacher was, and when I told him he 
remarked that I was not so much to blame as he 
had supposed. 

" Have you," he went on, " ever stolen, or told 
any lie ? " 

I was able to say no, except admitting as to the 
first usual college " conveyances," and as to the last 



BACKLOG STUDIES 91 

an occasional "blinder" to the professors. He was 
gracious enough to say that these could be over- 
looked as incident to the occasion. 

" Have you ever been dissipated, living riotously 
and keeping late hours ? " 

" Yes." 

This also could be forgiven me as an incident of 
youth. 

" Did you ever," he went on, " commit the crime 
of using intoxicating drinks as a beverage .? " 

I answered that I had never been a habitual 
drinker, that I had never been what was called a 
" moderate drinker," that I had never gone to a bar 
and drank alone ; but that I had been accustomed, 
in company with other young men, on convivial 
occasions, to taste the pleasures of the flowing bowl, 
sometimes to excess, but that I had also tasted the 
pains of it, and for months before my demise had 
refrained from liquor altogether. The holy man 
looked grave, but, after reflection, said this might 
also be overlooked in a young man. 

" What," continued he, in tones still more seri- 
ous, "has been your conduct with regard to the 
other sex ? " 

I fell upon my knees in a tremor of fear. I 
pulled from my bosom a little book like the one 
Leperello exhibits in the opera of Don Giovanni. 
There, I said, was a record of my flirtation and 



92 BACKLOG STUDIES 

inconstancy. I waited long for the decision, but 
it came in mercy. 

" Rise," he cried ; " young men will be young 
men, I suppose. We shall forgive this also to your 
youth and penitence." 

"Your examination is satisfactory," he informed 
me, after a pause ; " you can now enter the abodes 
of the happy." 

Joy leaped within me. We approached the gate. 
The key turned in the lock. The gate swung noise- 
lessly on its hinges a little open. Out flashed upon 
me unknown splendors. What I saw in that mo- 
mentary gleam I shall never whisper in mortal ears. 
I stood upon the threshold, just about to enter. 

" Stop ! one moment," exclaimed St. Peter, laying 
his hand on my shoulder ; " I have one more ques- 
tion to ask you." 

I turned toward him. 

" Young man, did you ever use tobacco f " 

" I both smoked and chewed in my lifetime," I 
faltered, "but" — 

" Then to hell with you ! " he shouted in a 
voice of thunder. 

Instantly the gate closed without noise, and I was 
flung, hurled, from the battlement, down ! down ! 
down ! Faster and faster I sank in a dizzy, sicken- 
ing whirl into an unfathomable space of gloom. 
The light faded. Dampness and darkness were 



/ waited long for the decision 



WQ\v.\Va\ 



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g<^g<|>«^«<^^<|>«<t>?<l>af^<i>^t^t^f^f«f^ti^f^fi 



■ J:(<t>tt<>«< 




■ h: <|> H <!> H <j> U <[> K <|^ a <}>H<|>U<j>H<|>^<j> «<!>«' 



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BACKLOG STUDIES 93 

round about me. As before, for days and days I 
rose exultant in the light, so now forever I sank into 
thickening darkness, — and yet not darkness, but a 
pale, ashy light more fearful. 

In the dimness, I at length discovered a wall be- 
fore me. It ran up and down and on either hand 
endlessly into the night. It was solid, black, terri- 
ble in its frowning massiveness. 

Straightway I alighted at the gate, — a dismal 
crevice hewn into the dripping rock. The gate was 
wide open, and there sat — I knew him at once ; 
who does not ? — the Arch Enemy of mankind. He 
cocked his eye at me in an impudent, low, familiar 
manner that disgusted me. I saw that I was not to 
be treated like a gentleman. 

"Well, young man," said he, rising, with a queer 
grin on his face, " what are you sent here for ? " 

" For using tobacco," I replied. 

" Ho ! " shouted he in a jolly manner, peculiar to 
devils, " that 's what most of 'em are sent here for 
now." 

Without more ado, he called four lesser imps, 
who ushered me within. What a dreadful plain lay 
before me ! There was a vast city laid out in reg- 
ular streets, but there were no houses. Along the 
streets were places of torment and torture exceed- 
ingly ingenious and disagreeable. For miles and 
miles, it seemed, I followed my conductors through 



94 BACKLOG STUDIES 

these horrors. Here was a deep vat of burning tar. 
Here were rows of fiery ovens. I noticed several 
immense caldron kettles of boiling oil, upon the 
rims of which little devils sat, with pitchforks in 
hand, and poked down the helpless victims who 
floundered in the liquid. But I forbear to go into 
unseemly details. The whole scene is as vivid in 
my mind as any earthly landscape. 

After an hour's walk, my tormentors halted be- 
fore the mouth of an oven, — a furnace heated 
seven times, and now roaring with flames. They 
grasped me, one hold of each hand and foot. Stand- 
ing before the blazing mouth, they, with a swing, 
and a " one, twOy three " — 

I again assure the reader that in this narrative 
I have set down nothing that was not actually 
dreamed, and much, very much of this wonderful 
vision I have been obliged to omit. 

H(2C fabula docet : It is dangerous for a young 
man to leave off the use of tobacco. 



FIFTH STUDY 



THE WlNPSn - 




FIFTH STUDY 



I WISH I could fitly celebrate the joyousness of 
the New England winter. Perhaps I could if I 
more thoroughly believed in it. But skepti- 
cism comes in with the south- wind. When that be- 
gins to blow, one feels the foundations of his belief 
breaking up. This is only another way of saying 
that it is more difficult, if it be not impossible, to 
freeze out orthodoxy, or any fixed notion, than it is 
to thaw it out ; though it is a mere fancy to suppose 
that this is the reason why the martyrs, of all 
creeds, were burned at the stake. There is said 
to be a great relaxation in New England of the 
ancient strictness in the direction of toleration of 
opinion, called by some a lowering of the standard, 
and by others a raising of the banner of liberality ; 
it might be an interesting inquiry how much this 
change is due to another change, — the softening 



98 BACKLOG STUDIES 

of the New England winter and the shifting of the 
Gulf Stream. It is the fashion nowadays to refer 
almost everything to physical causes, and this hint 
is a gratuitous contribution to the science of meta- 
physical physics. 

The hindrance to entering fully into the joyous- 
ness of a New England winter, except far inland 
among the mountains, is the south-wind. It is a 
grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to de- 
moralize society than any other. It is not necessary 
to remember that it filled the silken sails of Cleopa- 
tra's galley. It blows over New England every few 
days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing 
wind. That it brings the soft clouds, and some- 
times continues long enough almost to deceive the 
expectant buds of the fruit-trees, and to tempt the 
robin from the secluded evergreen copses, may be 
nothing ; but it takes the tone out of the mind, 
and engenders discontent, making one long for the 
tropics ; it feeds the weakened imagination on palm- 
leaves and the lotus. Before we know it, we be- 
come demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the 
sudden change to sharp weather, as the steamed 
hydropathic patient does from the plunge. It is 
the insidious temptation that assails us when we 
are braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of 
winter. 

Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on 



BACKLOG STUDIES 99 

character is only a fancied one ; but it is evident 
on temperament, which is not altogether a matter 
of temperature, although the good old deacon used 
to say, in his humble, simple way, that his third 
wife was a very good woman, but her " temperature 
was very different from that of the other two." 
The north-wind is full of courage, and puts the 
stamina of endurance into a man, and it probably 
would into a woman too if there were a series of 
resolutions passed to that effect. The west-wind 
is hopeful ; it has promise and adventure in it, and 
is, except to Atlantic voyagers America-bound, the 
best wind that ever blew. The east-wind is peev- 
ishness ; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling, 
and curls one up in the chimney-corner like a cat. 
And if the chimney ever smokes, it smokes when 
the wind sits in that quarter. The south-wind is 
full of longing and unrest, of effeminate suggestions 
of luxurious ease, and perhaps we might say of 
modern poetry, — at any rate, modern poetry needs 
a change of air. I am not sure but the south 
is the most powerful of the winds, because of its 
sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood 
in spring, when it comes up out of the tropical 
latitude ; it makes men " longen to gon on pilgrim- 
ages." 

I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is 
quite proper to do in an essay) on the south-wind, 



lOO BACKLOG STUDIES 

composed by the Young Lady Staying With Us, 
beginning, — 

" Out of a drifting southern cloud 

My soul heard the night-bird cry,"— . 

but it never got any farther than this. The Young 
Lady said it was exceedingly difficult to write the 
next two lines, because not only rhyme, but mean- 
ing, had to be procured. And this is true ; any- 
body can write first lines, and that is probably the 
reason we have so many poems which seem to 
have been begun in just this way, that is, with a 
south-wind longing without any thought in it, and 
it is very fortunate when there is not wind enough 
to finish them. This emotional poem, if I may 
so call it, was begun after Herbert went away. I 
liked it, and thought it was what is called " sugges- 
tive," although I did not understand it, especially 
what the night-bird was : and I am afraid I hurt 
the Young Lady's feelings by asking her if she 
meant Herbert by the "night-bird," — a very ab- 
surd suggestion about two sentimental people. She 
said, " Nonsense ! " but she afterwards told the 
Mistress that there were emotions that one could 
never put into words without the danger of being 
ridiculous, — a profound truth. And yet I should 
not like to say that there is not a tender lonesome- 
ness in love that can get comfort out of a night- 



BACKLOG STUDIES loi 

bird in a cloud, if there be such a thing. Analysis 
is the death of sentiment. 

But to return to the winds. Certain people im- 
press us as the winds do. Mandeville never comes 
in that I do not feel a north-wind vigor and health- 
fulness in his cordial, sincere, hearty manner, and 
in his wholesome way of looking at things. The 
Parson, you would say, was the east-wind, and only 
his intimates know that his peevishness is only a 
querulous humor. In the fair west-wind I know 
the Mistress herself, full of hope, and always the 
first one to discover a bit of blue in a cloudy sky. 
It would not be just to apply what I have said of 
the south -wind to any of our visitors, but it did 
blow a little while Herbert was here. 

II 

In point of pure enjoyment, with an intellectual 
sparkle in it, I suppose that no luxurious lounging 
on tropical isles set in tropical seas compares with 
the positive happiness one may have before a great 
wood fire (not two sticks laid crossways in a grate), 
with a veritable New England winter raging out- 
side. In order to get the highest enjoyment, the 
faculties must be alert, and not be lulled into a 
mere recipient dulness. There are those who pre- 
fer a warm bath to a brisk walk in the inspiring air, 
where ten thousand keen influences minister to the 



I02 BACKLOG STUDIES 

sense of beauty and run along the excited nerves. 
There are, for instance, a sharpness of horizon out- 
line and a delicacy of color on distant hills which 
are wanting in summer, and which convey to one 
rightly organized the keenest delight, and a refine- 
ment of enjoyment that is scarcely sensuous, not 
at all sentimental, and almost passing the intellec- 
tual line into the spiritual. 

I was speaking to Mandeville about this, and he 
said that I was drawing it altogether too fine ; that 
he experienced sensations of pleasure in being out 
in almost all weathers; that he rather liked to 
breast a north-wind, and that there was a certain 
inspiration in sharp outlines and in a landscape in 
trim winter-quarters, with stripped trees, and, as it 
were, scudding through the season under bare poles ; 
but that he must say that he preferred the weather 
in which he could sit on the fence by the wood-lot, 
with the spring sun on his back, and hear the stir 
of the leaves and the birds beginning their house- 
keeping. 

A very pretty idea for Mandeville; and I fear 
he is getting to have private thoughts about the 
Young Lady. Mandeville naturally likes the robust- 
ness and sparkle of winter, and it has been a little 
suspicious to hear him express the hope that we 
shall have an early spring. 

I wonder how many people there are in New 



BACKLOG STUDIES 103 

England who know the glory and inspiration of 
a winter walk just before sunset, and that, too, not 
only on days of clear sky, when the west is aflame 
with a rosy color, which has no suggestion of lan- 
guor or unsatisfied longing in it, but on dull days, 
when the sullen clouds hang about the horizon, full 
of threats of storm and the terrors of the gathering 
night. We are very busy with our own affairs, but 
there is always something going on outdoors worth 
looking at ; and there is seldom an hour before 
sunset that has not some special attraction. And, 
besides, it puts one in the mood for the cheer and 
comfort of the open fire at home. 

Probably if the people of New England could 
have a plebiscitum on their weather, they would 
vote against it, especially against winter. Almost 
no one speaks well of winter. And this suggests 
the idea that most people here were either born in 
the wrong place, or do not know what is best for 
them. I doubt if these grumblers would be any 
better satisfied, or would turn out as well, in the 
tropics. Everybody knows our virtues, — at least 
if they believe half we tell them, — and for deli- 
cate beauty, that rare plant, I should look among 
the girls of the New England hills as confidently 
as anywhere, and I have traveled as far south as 
New Jersey, and west of the Genesee Valley. In- 
deed, it would be easy to show that the parents of 



104 BACKLOG STUDIES 

the pretty girls in the West emigrated from New 
England. And yet — such is the mystery of Provi- 
dence — no one would expect that one of the sweet- 
est and most delicate flowers that blooms, the trail- 
ing arbutus, would blossom in this inhospitable 
climate, and peep forth from the edge of a snow- 
bank at that. 

It seems unaccountable to a superficial observer 
that the thousands of people who are dissatisfied 
with their climate do not seek a more congenial 
one — or stop grumbling. The world is so small, 
and all parts of it are so accessible, it has so many 
varieties of climate, that one could surely suit him- 
self by searching ; and, then, is it worth while to 
waste our one short life in the midst of unpleasant 
surroundings and in a constant friction with that 
which is disagreeable.? One would suppose that 
people set down on this little globe would seek 
places on it most agreeable to themselves. It must 
be that they are much more content with the climate 
and country upon which they happen, by the acci- 
dent of their birth, than they pretend to be. 

Ill 

Home sympathies and charities are most active 
in the winter. Coming in from my late walk, — in 
fact driven in by a hurrying north-wind that would 
brook no delay, a wind that brought snow that did 



BACKLOG STUDIES 105 

not seem to fall out of a bounteous sky, but to be 
blown from polar fields, — I find the Mistress re- 
turned from town, all in a glow of philanthropic 
excitement. 

There has been a meeting of a woman's associ- 
ation for Ameliorating the Condition of somebody 
— here at home. Any one can belong to it by 
paying a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can be- 
come a life Ameliorator, — a sort of life assurance. 
The Mistress, at the meeting, I believe, " seconded 
the motion " several times, and is one of the Vice- 
Presidents ; and this family honor makes me feel 
almost as if I were a president of something my- 
self. These little distinctions are among the sweet- 
est things in life, and to see one's name officially 
printed stimulates his charity, and is almost as 
satisfactory as being the chairman of a committee 
or the mover of a resolution. It is, I think, fortu- 
nate, and not at all discreditable, that our little 
vanity, which is reckoned among our weaknesses, 
is thus made to contribute to the activity of our 
nobler powers. Whatever we may say, we all of 
us like distinction ; and probably there is no more 
subtle flattery than that conveyed in the whisper, 
"That's he," "That's she." 

There used to be a society for ameliorating the 
condition of the Jews ; but they were found to be 
so much more adept than other people in amelio- 



io6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

rating their own condition that I suppose it was 
given up. Mandeville says that to his knowledge 
there are a great many people who get up amelio- 
rating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy 
in society, or to earn a little something in a good 
cause. They seem to think that the world owes 
them a living because they are philanthropists. 
In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual 
charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and 
some Gentiles, whose condition needs ameliorating, 
and, if very little is really accomplished in the effort 
for them, it always remains true that the charitable 
reap a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beau- 
tiful compensations of this life that no one can sin- 
cerely try to help another without helping himself. 

Our Next-Door Neighbor. Why is it that 
almost all philanthropists and reformers are dis- 
agreeable ? 

I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. 
He is the person who comes in without knocking, 
drops in in the most natural way, as his wife does 
also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner 
cup of tea before the fire. Formal society begins 
as soon as you lock your doors, and only admit 
visitors through the media of bells and servants. 
It is lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is 
honest. 

The Parson. Why do you class reformers and 



BACKLOG STUDIES 107 

philanthropists together? Those usually called 
reformers are not philanthropists at all. They are 
agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to them- 
selves, they wish to make it as unpleasant to others 
as possible. 

Mandeville. That's a noble view of your 
fellow-men. 

Our Next -Door Neighbor. Well, granting 
the distinction, why are both apt to be unpleasant 
people to live with ? 

The Parson. As if the unpleasant people who 
won't mind their own business were confined to the 
classes you mention ! Some of the best people I 
know are philanthropists, — I mean the genuine 
ones, and not the uneasy busybodies seeking no- 
toriety as a means of living. 

The Fire-Tender. It is not altogether the not 
minding their own business. Nobody does that. 
The usual explanation is that people with one idea 
are tedious. But that is not all of it. For few per- 
sons have more than one idea, — ministers, doctors, 
lawyers, teachers, manufacturers, merchants, — 
they all think the world they live in is the cen- 
tral one. 

Mandeville. And you might add authors. To 
them, nearly all the life of the world is in letters, 
and I suppose they would be astonished if they 
knew how little the thoughts of the majority of 



I08 BACKLOG STUDIES 

people are occupied with books, and with all that 
vast thought - circulation which is the vital cur- 
rent of the world to book-men. Newspapers have 
reached their present power by becoming unliter- 
ary, and reflecting all the interests of the world. 

The Mistress. I have noticed one thing, that 
the most popular persons in society are those who 
take the world as it is, find the least fault, and have 
no hobbies. They are always wanted to dinner. 

The Young Lady. And the other kind always 
appear to me to want a dinner. 

The Fire-Tender. It seems to me that the 
real reason why reformers and some philanthropists 
are unpopular is that they disturb our serenity and 
make us conscious of our own shortcomings. It is 
only now and then that a whole people get a spasm 
of reformatory fervor, of investigation and regen- 
eration. At other times they rather hate those who 
disturb their quiet. 

Our Next Door. Professional reformers and 
philanthropists are insufferably conceited and intol- 
erant. 

The Mistress. Everything depends upon the 
spirit in which a reform or a scheme of philanthropy 
is conducted. 

Mandeville. I attended a protracted conven- 
tion of reformers of a certain evil, once, and had the 
pleasure of taking dinner with a tableful of them. 



I 



BACKLOG STUDIES 109 

It was one of those country dinners accompanied 
with green tea. Every one disagreed with every 
one else, and you would n't wonder at it, if you had 
seen them. They were people with whom good 
food would n't agree. George Thompson was ex- 
pected at the convention, and I remember that there 
was almost a cordiality in the talk about him, until 
one sallow brother casually mentioned that George 
took snuff, when a chorus of deprecatory groans 
went up from the table. One long-faced maiden 
in spectacles, with purple ribbons in her hair, who 
drank five cups of tea by my count, declared that 
she was perfectly disgusted, and did n't want to hear 
him speak. In the course of the meal the talk ran 
upon the discipline of children, and how to adminis- 
ter punishment. I was quite taken by the remark 
of a thin, dyspeptic man who summed up the matter 
by growling out in a harsh, deep bass voice, " Punish 
'em in love ! " It sounded as if he had said, " Shoot 
'em on the spot ! " 

The Parson. I supposed you would say that he 
was a minister. There is another thing about those 
people. I think they are working against the course 
of nature. Nature is entirely indifferent to any re- 
form. She perpetuates a fault as persistently as a 
virtue. There 's a split in my thumb-nail that has 
been scrupulously continued for many years, not- 
withstanding all my efforts to make the nail resume 



no BACKLOG STUDIES 

its old regularity. You see the same thing in trees 
whose bark is cut, and in melons that have had only 
one summer's intimacy with squashes. The bad 
traits in character are passed down from generation 
to generation with as much care as the good ones. 
Nature, unaided, never reforms anything. 
Mandeville. Is that the essence of Calvinism } 
The Parson. Calvinism has n't any essence, — 
it 's a fact. 

Mandeville. When I was a boy, I always as- 
sociated Calvinism and calomel together. I thought 
that homoeopathy — szmtlta, etc. — had done away 
with both of them. 

Our Next Door {rising). If you are going 
into theology, I 'm off. 

IV 

I fear we are not getting on much with the joy- 
ousness of winter. In order to be exhilarating it 
must be real winter. I have noticed that the lower 
the thermometer sinks the more fiercely the north- 
wind rages, and the deeper the snow is the higher 
rise the spirits of the community. The activity of 
the "elements" has a great effect upon country 
folk especially ; and it is a more wholesome excite- 
ment than that caused by a great conflagration. 
The abatement of a snowstorm that grows to ex- 
ceptional magnitude is regretted, for there is always 



BACKLOG STUDIES iii 

the half-hope that this will be, since it has gone 
so far, the largest fall of snow ever known in the 
region, burying out of sight the great fall of 1808, 
the account of which is circumstantially and aggra- 
vatingly thrown in our way annually upon the least 
provocation. We all know how it reads : " Some 
said it began at daylight, others that it set in after 
sunrise ; but all agreed that by eight o'clock Friday 
morning it was snowing in heavy masses that dark- 
ened the air." 

The morning after we settled the five — or is it 
seven ? — points of Calvinism, there began a very 
hopeful snowstorm, one of those wide-sweeping, ca- 
reering storms that may not much affect the city, 
but which strongly impress the country imagina- 
tion with a sense of the personal qualities of the 
weather, — power, persistency, fierceness, and roar- 
ing exultation. Outdoors was terrible to those who 
looked out of windows, and heard the raging wind, 
and saw the commotion in all the high treetops and 
the writhing of the low evergreens, and could not 
summon resolution to go forth and breast and con- 
quer the bluster. The sky was dark with snow, 
which was not permitted to fall peacefully like a 
blessed mantle, as it sometimes does, but was blown 
and rent and tossed like the split canvas of a ship 
in a gale. The world was taken possession of by 
the demons of the air, who had their will of it. 



112 BACKLOG STUDIES 

There is a sort of fascination in such a scene equal 
to that of a tempest at sea, and without its attendant 
haunting sense of peril ; there is no fear that the 
house will founder or dash against your neighbor's 
cottage, which is dimly seen anchored across the 
field; at every thundering onset there is no fear 
that the cook's galley will upset, or the screw break 
loose and smash through the side, and we are not in 
momentary expectation of the tinkling of the little 
bell to "stop her." The snow rises in drifting 
waves, and the naked trees bend like strained masts ; 
but so long as the window-blinds remain fast, and 
the chimney-tops do not go, we preserve an equal 
mind. Nothing more serious can happen than the 
failure of the butcher's and the grocer's carts, un- 
less, indeed, the little news-carrier should fail to 
board us with the world's daily bulletin, or our next- 
door neighbor should be deterred from coming to 
sit by the blazing, excited fire, and interchange the 
trifling, harmless gossip of the day. The feeling of 
seclusion on such a day is sweet, but the true friend 
who does brave the storm and come is welcomed 
with a sort of enthusiasm that his arrival in pleasant 
weather would never excite. The snow-bound in 
their Arctic hulk are glad to see even a wandering 
Esquimau. 

On such a day I recall the great snowstorms on 
the northern New England hills, which lasted for a 



BACKLOG STUDIES 113 

week with no cessation, with no sunrise or sunset, 
and no observation at noon; and the sky all the 
while dark with the driving snow, and the whole 
world full of the noise of the rioting Boreal forces ; 
until the roads were obliterated, the fences covered, 
and the snow was piled solidly above the first-story 
windows of the farmhouse on one side, and drifted 
before the front door so high that egress could only 
be had by tunneling the bank. 

After such a battle and siege, when the wind fell 
and the sun struggled out again, the pallid world 
lay subdued and tranquil, and the scattered dwell- 
ings were not unlike wrecks stranded by the tem- 
pest and half buried in sand. But when the blue 
sky again bent over all, the wide expanse of snow 
sparkled like diamond-fields, and the chimney signal- 
smokes could be seen, how beautiful was the picture ! 
Then began the stir abroad, and the efforts to open 
up communication through roads, or fields, or wher- 
ever paths could be broken, and the ways to the 
meeting-house first of all. Then from every house 
and hamlet the men turned out with shovels, with 
the patient, lumbering oxen yoked to the sleds, to 
break the roads, — driving into the deepest drifts, 
shoveling and shouting as if the severe labor were 
a holiday frolic, the courage and hilarity rising with 
the difficulties encountered ; and relief parties, 
meeting at length in the midst of the wide white 



114 BACKLOG STUDIES 

desolation, hailed each other as chance explorers in 
new lands, and made the whole country-side ring 
with the noise of their congratulations. There was 
as much excitement and healthy stirring of the 
blood in it as in the Fourth of July, and perhaps as 
much patriotism. The boy saw it in dumb show 
from the distant, low farm-house window, and wished 
he were a man. At night there were great stories 
of achievement told by the cavernous fireplace; 
great latitude was permitted in the estimation of the 
size of particular drifts, but never any agreement 
was reached as to the *' depth on a level." I have 
observed since that people are quite as apt to agree 
upon the marvellous and the exceptional as upon 
simple facts. 



By the firelight and the twilight, the Young Lady 
is finishing a letter to Herbert, — writing it, liter- 
ally, on her knees, transforming thus the simple 
deed into an act of devotion. Mandeville says that 
it is bad for her eyes, but the sight of it is worse for 
his eyes. He begins to doubt the wisdom of reli- 
ance upon that worn apothegm about absence con- 
quering love. Memory has the singular character- 
istic of recalling in a friend absent, as in a journey 
long past, only that which is agreeable. Mande- 
ville begins to wish he were in New South Wales. 



Stranded by the tempest 



oiooa ,,e Fourt; 



^id by I 



his eyes. He begins to doubt the wisdor 

St ic of recalling in a fr 

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BACKLOG STUDIES 115 

I did intend to insert here a letter of Herbert's 
to the Young^ Lady, — obtained, I need not say, 
honorably, as private letters which get into print 
always are, — not to gratify a vulgar curiosity, but 
to show how the most unsentimental and cynical 
people are affected by the master passion. But I 
cannot bring myself to do it. Even in the interests 
of science, one has no right to make an autopsy of 
two loving hearts, especially when they are suffer- 
ing under a late attack of the one agreeable epi- 
demic. All the world loves a lover, but it laughs 
at him none the less in his extravagances. He 
loses his accustomed reticence ; he has something 
of the martyr's willingness for publicity ; he would 
even like to show the sincerity of his devotion by 
some piece of open heroism. Why should he con- 
ceal a discovery which has transformed the world to 
him, a secret which explains all the mysteries of 
nature and humanity.? He is in that ecstasy of 
mind which prompts those who were never orators 
before to rise in an experience-meeting and pour 
out a flood of feeling in the tritest language and the 
most conventional terms. I am not sure that Her- 
bert, while in this glow, would be ashamed of his 
letter in print, but this is one of the cases where 
chancery would step in and protect one from him- 
self by his next friend. This is really a delicate 
matter, and perhaps it is brutal to allude to it at all 



ii6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

In truth, the letter would hardly be interesting in 
print. Love has a marvelous power of vivifying 
language and charging the simplest words with the 
most tender meaning, of restoring to them the 
power they had when first coined. They are words 
of fire to those two who know their secret, but not 
to others. It is generally admitted that the best 
love-letters would not make very good literature. 
" Dearest, " begins Herbert, in a burst of originality, 
felicitously selecting a word whose exclusiveness 
shuts out all the world but one, and which is a 
whole letter, poem, confession, and creed, in one 
breath. What a weight of meaning it has to carry ! 
There may be beauty and wit and grace and natu- 
ralness and even the splendor of fortune elsewhere, 
but there is one woman in the world whose sweet 
presence would be compensation for the loss of all 
else. It is not to be reasoned about — he wants 
that one ; it is her plume dancing down the sunny 
street that sets his heart beating; he knows her 
form among a thousand, and follows her ; he longs 
to run after her carriage, which the cruel coachman 
whirls out of his sight. It is marvellous to him that 
all the world does not want her too, and he is in a 
panic when he thinks of it. And what exquisite 
flattery is in that little word addressed to her, and 
with what sweet and meek triumph she repeats it to 
herself, with a feeling that is not altogether pity for 



BACKLOG STUDIES 117 

those who still stand and wait. To be chosen out 
of all the available world, — it is almost as much 
bliss as it is to choose. " All that long, long stage- 
ride from Blim's to Portage I thought of you every 
moment, and wondered what you were doing and 
how you were looking just that moment, and I 
found the occupation so charming that I was almost 
sorry when the journey was ended." Not much in 
that ! But I have no doubt the Young Lady read it 
over and over and dwelt also upon every moment, 
and found in it new proof of unshaken constancy, 
and had in that and the like things in the letter 
a sense of the sweetest communion. There is no- 
thing in this letter that we need dwell on it, but I 
am convinced that the mail does not carry any 
other letters so valuable as this sort. 

I suppose that the appearance of Herbert in this 
new light unconsciously gave tone a little to the 
evening's talk ; not that anybody mentioned him, 
but Mandeville was evidently generalizing from the 
qualities that make one person admired by another 
to those that win the love of mankind. 

Mandeville. There seems to be something in 
some persons that wins them liking, special or gen- 
eral, independent almost of what they do or say. 

The Mistress. Why, everybody is liked by 
some one. 

Mandeville. I 'm not sure of that. There are 



ii8 BACKLOG STUDIES 

those who are friendless, and would be if they had 
endless acquaintances. But, to take the case away 
from ordinary examples, in which habit and a thou- 
sand circumstances influence liking, what is it that 
determines the world upon a personal regard for 
authors whom it has never seen ? 

The Fire-Tender. Probably it is the spirit 
shown in their writings. 

The Mistress. More likely it is a sort of tradi- 
tion ; I don't believe that the world has a feeling of 
personal regard for any author who was not loved 
by those who knew him most intimately. 

The Fire-Tender. Which comes to the same 
thing. The qualities, the spirit, that got him the 
love of his acquaintances he put into his books. 

Mandeville. That does n't seem to me suffi- 
cient. Shakespeare has put everything into his 
plays and poems, swept the whole range of human 
sympathies and passions, and at times is inspired by 
the sweetest spirit that ever man had. 

The Young Lady. No one has better inter- 
preted love. 

Mandeville. Yet I apprehend that no person 
living has any personal regard for Shakespeare, or 
that his personality affects many, — except they 
stand in Stratford church and feel a sort of awe at 
the thought that the bones of the greatest poet are 
so near them. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 119 

The Parson. I don't think the world cares 
personally for any mere man or woman dead for 
centuries. 

Mandeville. But there is a difference. I think 
there is still rather a warm feeling for Socrates the 
man, independent of what he said, which is little 
known. Homer's works are certainly better known, 
but no one cares personally for Homer any more 
than for any other shade. 

Our Next Door. Why not go back to Moses ? 
We 've got the evening before us for digging up 
people. 

Mandeville. Moses is a very good illustration. 
No name of antiquity is better known, and yet I 
fancy he does not awaken the same kind of popular 
liking that Socrates does. 

Our Next Door. Fudge ! You just get up in 
any lecture assembly and propose three cheers for 
Socrates, and see where you '11 be. Mandeville 
ought to be a missionary, and read Robert Brown- 
ing to the Fijis. 

The Fire-Tender. How do you account for the 
alleged personal regard for Socrates ? 

The Parson. Because the world called Christian 
is still more than half heathen. 

Mandeville. He was a plain man ; his sympa- 
thies were with the people ; he had what is roughly 
known as " horse-sense," and he was homely. 



I20 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Franklin and Abraham Lincoln belong to his class. 
They were all philosophers of the shrewd sort, and 
they all had humor. It was fortunate for Lincoln 
that, with his other qualities, he was homely. That 
was the last touching recommendation to the popu- 
lar heart. 

The Mistress. Do you remember that ugly 
brown-stone statue of St. Antonio by the bridge in 
Sorrento ? He must have been a coarse saint, pa- 
tron of pigs as he was, but I don't know any one 
anywhere, or the homely stone image of one, so 
loved by the people. 

Our Next Door. Ugliness being trump, I won- 
ber more people don't win. Mandeville, why don't 
you get up a " centenary " of Socrates, and put up 
his statue in the Central Park.? It would make 
that one of Lincoln in Union Square look beautiful. 

The Parson. Oh, you '11 see that some day, 
when they have a museum there illustrating the 
" Science of Religion." 

The Fire-Tender. Doubtless, to go back to 
what we were talking of, the world has a fondness 
for some authors, and thinks of them with an affec- 
tionate and half -pitying familiarity ; and it may be 
that this grows out of something in their lives quite 
as much as anything in their writings. There 
seems to be more disposition of personal liking to 
Thackeray than to Dickens, now both are dead, — 



BACKLOG STUDIES 121 

a result that would hardly have been predicted 
when the world was crying over Little Nell, or 
agreeing to hate Becky Sharp. 

The Young Lady. What was that you were 
telling about Charles Lamb, the other day, Mande- 
ville ? Is not the popular liking for him somewhat 
independent of his writings ? 

Mandeville. He is a striking example of an 
author who is loved. Very likely the remembrance 
of his tribulations has still something to do with the 
tenderness felt for him. He supported no dignity, 
and permitted a familiarity which indicated no self- 
appreciation of his real rank in the world of letters. 
I have heard that his acquaintances familiarly called 
him "Charley." 

Our Next Door. It 's a relief to know that ! 
Do you happen to know what Socrates was called ? 

Mandeville. I have seen people who knew 
Lamb very well. One of them told me, as illustrat- 
ing his want of dignity, that as he was going home 
late one night through the nearly empty streets, he 
was met by a roistering party who were making a 
night of it from tavern to tavern. They fell upon 
Lamb, attracted by his odd figure and hesitating 
manner, and, hoisting him on their shoulders, carried 
him off, singing as they went. Lamb enjoyed the 
lark, and did not tell them who he was. When they 
were tired of lugging him, they lifted him, with 



122 BACKLOG STUDIES 

much effort and difficulty, to the top of a high wall, 
and left him there amid the broken bottles, utterly- 
unable to get down. Lamb remained there philo- 
sophically in the enjoyment of his novel adventure, 
until a passing watchman rescued him from his 
ridiculous situation. 

The Fire-Tender. How did the story get out ? 

Mandeville. Oh, Lamb told all about it next 
morning ; and when asked afterwards why he did 
so, he replied that there was no fun in it unless he 
told it. 



SIXTH STUDY 




SIXTH STUDY 



THE King sat in the winter-house in the 
ninth month, and there was a fire on the 
hearth burning before him. . . . When 
Jehudi had read three or four leaves he cut it with 
the penknife. 

That seems to be a pleasant and home-like pic- 
ture from a not very remote period, — less than 
twenty-five hundred years ago, and many centuries 
after the fall of Troy. And that was not so very 
long ago, for Thebes, in the splendid streets of 
which Homer wandered and sang to the kings when 
Memphis, whose ruins are older than history, was 



126 BACKLOG STUDIES 

its younger rival, was twelve centuries old when 
Paris ran away with Helen. 

I am sorry that the original — and you can usu- 
ally do anything with the " original " — does not 
bear me out in saying that it was a pleasant picture. 
I should like to believe that Jehoiakim — for that 
was the singular name of the gentleman who sat by 
his hearthstone — had just received the Memphis 
" Palimpsest," fifteen days in advance of the date 
of its publication, and that his secretary was read- 
ing to him that monthly, and cutting its leaves as 
he read. I should like to have seen it in that year 
when Thales was learning astronomy in Memphis, 
and Necho was organizing his campaign against 
Carchemish. If Jehoiakim took the ** Attic Quar- 
terly," he might have read its comments on the 
banishment of the Alcmaeonidae, and its gibes at 
Solon for his prohibitory laws, forbidding the sale 
of unguents, limiting the luxury of dress, and inter- 
fering with the sacred rights of mourners to pas- 
sionately bewail the dead in the Asiatic manner ; 
the same number being enriched with contributions 
from two rising poets, — a lyric of love by Sappho, 
and an ode sent by Anacreon from Teos, with an 
editorial note explaining that the Maga was not 
responsible for the sentiments of the poem. 

But, in fact, the gentleman who sat before the 
backlog in his winter-house had other things to 



BACKLOG STUDIES 127 

think of. For Nebuchadnezzar was coming that 
way with the chariots and horses of Babylon and a 
great crowd of marauders ; and the king had not 
even the poor choice whether he would be the vassal 
of the Chaldean or of the Egyptian. To us, this is 
only a ghostly show of monarchs and conquerors 
stalking across vast historic spaces. It was no 
doubt a vulgar enough scene of war and plunder. 
The great captains of that age went about to harry 
each other's territories and spoil each other's cities 
very much as we do nowadays, and for similar rea- 
son ; Napoleon the Great in Moscow, Napoleon the 
Small in Italy, Kaiser William in Paris, Great Scott 
in Mexico ! Men have not changed much. 

— The Fire-Tender sat in his window-garden in 
the third month ; there was a fire on the hearth 
burning before him. He cut the leaves of " Scrib- 
ner's Monthly " with his penknife, and thought of 
Jehoiakim. 

That seems as real as the other. In the garden, 
which is a room of the house, the tall callas, rooted 
in the ground, stand about the fountain ; the sun, 
streaming through the glass, illumines the many- 
hued flowers. I wonder what Jehoiakim did with 
the mealy-bug on his passion-vine, and if he had any 
way of removing the scale-bug from his African 
acacia ? One would like to know, too, how he 
treated the red spider on the La Marque rose. The 



128 BACKLOG STUDIES 

record is silent. I do not doubt he had all these 
insects in his winter-garden, and the aphidae be- 
sides ; and he could not smoke them out with to- 
bacco, for the world had not yet fallen into its 
second stage of the knowledge of good and evil by 
eating the forbidden tobacco-plant. 

I confess that this little picture of a fire on the 
hearth so many centuries ago helps to make real 
and interesting to me that somewhat misty past. 

No doubt the lotus and the acanthus from the 
Nile grew in that winter-house, and perhaps Jehoi- 
akim attempted — the most difficult thing in the 
world — the cultivation of the wild - flowers from 
Lebanon. Perhaps Jehoiakim was interested also, 
as I am through this ancient fireplace, — which is 
a sort of domestic window into the ancient world, — 
in the loves of Bernice and Abaces at the court 
of the Pharaohs. I see that it is the same thing 
as the sentiment — perhaps it is the shrinking 
which every soul that is a soul has, sooner or later, 
from isolation — which grew up between Herbert 
and the Young Lady Staying With Us, Jeremiah 
used to come in to that fireside very much as the 
Parson does to ours. The Parson, to be sure, never 
prophesies, but he grumbles, and is the chorus 
in the play that sings the everlasting ai ai of " I 
told you so ! " Yet we like the Parson. He is the 
sprig of bitter herb that makes the pottage whole- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 129 

some. I should rather, ten times over, dispense 
with the flatterers and the smooth-sayers than the 
grumblers. But the grumblers are of two sorts, 
the healthful-toned and the whiners. There are 
makers of beer who substitute for the clean bitter 
of the hops some deleterious drug, and they seek 
to hide the fraud by some cloying sweet. There 
is nothing of this sickish drug in the Parson's talk, 
nor was there in that of Jeremiah. I sometimes 
think there is scarcely enough of this wholesome 
tonic in modem society. The Parson says he 
never would give a child sugar-coated pills. Man- 
deville says he never would give them any. After 
all, you cannot help liking Mandeville. 

II 

We were talking of this late news from Jerusa- 
lem. The Fire-Tender was saying that it is aston- 
ishing how much is telegraphed us from the East 
that is not half so interesting. He was at a loss 
philosophically to account for the fact that the 
world is so eager to know the news of yesterday 
which is unimportant, and so indifferent to that of 
the day before which is of some moment. 

Mandeville. I suspect that it arises from the 
want of imagination. People need to touch the 
facts, and nearness in time is contiguity. It 
would excite no interest to bulletin the last siege 



130 BACKLOG STUDIES 

of Jerusalem in a village where the event was un- 
known, if the date was appended; and yet the 
account of it is incomparably more exciting than 
that of the siege of Metz. 

Our Next Door. The daily news is a neces- 
sity. I cannot get along without my morning paper. 
The other morning I took it up, and was absorbed 
in the telegraphic columns for an hour nearly. I 
thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of immediate con- 
tact with all the world of yesterday, until I read 
among the minor items that Patrick Donahue, of 
the city of New York, died of a sunstroke. If he 
had frozen to death, I should have enjoyed that ; 
but to die of sunstroke in February seemed inap- 
propriate, and I turned to the date of the paper. 
When I found it was printed in July, I need not 
say that I lost all interest in it, though why the 
trivialities and crimes and accidents, relating to 
people I never knew, were not as good six months 
after date as twelve hours, I cannot say. 

The Fire-Tender. You know that in Concord 
the latest news, except a remark or two by Thoreau 
or Emerson, is the Vedas. I believe the Rig- Veda 
is read at the breakfast-table instead of the Boston 
journals. 

The Parson. I know it is read afterward in- 
stead of the Bible. 

Mandeville. That is only because it is sup- 



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BACKLOG STUDIES 131 

posed to be older. I have understood that the 
Bible is very well spoken of there, but it is not an- 
tiquated enough to be an authority. 

Our Next Door. There was a project on foot 
to put it into the circulating library, but the title 
New in the second part was considered objection- 
able. 

Herbert. Well, I have a good deal of sympathy 
with Concord as to the news. We are fed on a 
daily diet of trivial events and gossip, of the un- 
fruitful sayings of thoughtless men and women, 
until our mental digestion is seriously impaired ; 
the day will come when no one will be able to sit 
down to a thoughtful, well-wrought book and assim- 
ilate its contents. 

The Mistress. I doubt if a daily newspaper is 
a necessity, in the higher sense of the word. 

The Parson. Nobody supposes it is to women, 
— that is, if they can see each other. 

The Mistress. Don't interrupt, unless you 
have something to say ; though I should like to 
know how much gossip there is afloat that the 
minister does not know. The newspaper may be 
needed in society, but how quickly it drops out of 
mind when one goes beyond the bounds of what is 
called civilization ! You remember when we were 
in the depths of the woods, last summer, how diffi- 
cult it was to get up any interest in the files of late 



tSi BACKLOG STUDIES 

papers that reached us, and how unreal all the 
struggle and turmoil of the world seemed. We 
stood apart, and could estimate things at their true 
value. 

The Young Lady. Yes, that was real life. I 
never tired of the guide's stories ; there was some 
interest in the intelligence that a deer had been 
down to eat the lilypads at the foot of the lake the 
night before ; that a bear's track was seen on the 
trail we crossed that day; even Mandeville's fish- 
stories had a certain air of probability ; and how to 
roast a trout in the ashes and serve him hot and juicy 
and clean, and how to cook soup and prepare coffee 
and heat dish-water in one tin-pail, were vital prob- 
lems. 

The Parson. You would have had no such prob- 
lems at home. Why will people go so far to put 
themselves to such inconvenience ? I hate the 
woods. Isolation breeds conceit ; there are no peo- 
ple so conceited as those who dwell in remote wil- 
dernesses and live mostly alone. 

The Young Lady. For my part, I feel humble 
in the presence of mountains, and in the vast 
stretches of the wilderness. 

The Parson. I '11 be bound a woman would 
feel just as nobody would expect her to feel, under 
given circumstances. 

Mandeville. I think the reason why the news- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 133 

paper and the world it carries take no hold of us 
in the wilderness is that we become a kind of vege- 
table ourselves when we go there. I have often 
attempted to improve my mind in the woods with 
good solid books. You might as well offer a bunch 
of celery to an oyster. The mind goes to sleep : 
the senses and the instincts wake up. The best I 
can do when it rains, or the trout won't bite, is to 
read Dumas' novels. Their ingenuity will almost 
keep a man awake after supper, by the camp-fire. 
And there is a kind of unity about them that I like ; 
the history is as good as the morality. 

Our Next Door. I always wondered where 
Mandeville got his historical facts. 

The Mistress. Mandeville misrepresents him- 
self in the woods. I heard him one night repeat 
"The Vision of Sir Launfal " — 

(The Fire-Tender. Which comes very near 
being our best poem.) 

— as we were crossing the lake, and the guides 
became so absorbed in it that they forgot to paddle, 
and sat listening with open mouths, as if it had 
been a panther story. 

The Parson. Mandeville likes to show off well 
enough. I heard that he related to a woods boy up 
there the whole of the Siege of Troy. The boy was 
very much interested, and said " there 'd been a man 
up there that spring from Troy, looking up timber." 



134 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Mandeville always carries the news when he goes 
into the country. 

Mandeville. I 'm going to take the Parson's 
sermon on Jonah next summer ; it 's the nearest to 
anything like news we've had from his pulpit in 
ten years. But, seriously, the boy was very well 
informed. He 'd heard of Albany ; his father took 
in the weekly " Tribune,*' and he had a partial con- 
ception of Horace Greeley. 

Our Next Door. I never went so far out of 
the world in America yet that the name of Horace 
Greeley did n't rise up before me. One of the first 
questions asked by any camp-fire is, ** Did ye ever 
see Horace } " 

Herbert. Which shows the power of the press 
again. But I have often remarked how little real 
conception of the moving world, as it is, people in 
remote regions get from the newspaper. It needs 
to be read in the midst of events. A chip cast 
ashore in a refluent eddy tells no tale of the force 
and swiftness of the current. 

Our Next Door. I don't exactly get the drift 
of that last remark ; but I rather like a remark 
that I can't understand ; like the landlady's indi- 
gestible bread, it stays by you. 

Herbert. I see that I must talk in words of 
one syllable. The newspaper has little effect upon 
the remote country mind, because the remote coun- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 135 

try mind is interested in a very limited number of 
things. Besides, as the Parson says, it is conceited. 
The most accomplished scholar will be the butt of 
all the guides in the woods, because he cannot 
follow a trail that would puzzle a sable (saple the 
trappers call it). 

The Parson. It 's enough to read the summer 
letters that people write to the newspapers from 
the country and the woods. Isolated from the ac- 
tivity of the world, they come to think that the little 
adventures of their stupid days and nights are im- 
portant. Talk about that being real life ! Com- 
pare the letters such people write with the other 
contents of the newspaper, and you will see which 
life is real. That 's one reason I hate to have sum- 
mer come, — the country letters set in. 

The Mistress. I should like to see something 
the Parson does n't hate to have come. 

Mandeville. Except his quarter s salary, and 
the meeting of the American Board. 

The Fire-Tender. I don't see that we are get- 
ting any nearer the solution of the original question. 
The world is evidently interested in events simply 
because they are recent. 

Our Next Door. I have a theory that a news- 
paper might be published at little cost, merely by 
reprinting the numbers of the years before, only 
altering the dates ; just as the Parson preaches 
over his sermons. 



136 BACKLOG STUDIES 

The Fire-Tender. It 's evident we must have 
a higher order of news-gatherers. It has come to 
this, that the newspaper furnishes thought-material 
for all the world, actually prescribes from day to 
day the themes the world shall think on and talk 
about. The occupation of news-gathering becomes, 
therefore, the most important. When you think 
of it, it is astonishing that this department should 
not be in the hands of the ablest men, accom- 
plished scholars, philosophical observers, discrim- 
inating selectors of the news of the world that is 
worth thinking over and talking about. The edito- 
rial comments frequently are able enough, but is 
it worth while keeping an expensive mill going 
to grind chaff ? I sometimes wonder, as I open my 
morning paper, if nothing did happen in the twenty- 
four hours except crimes, accidents, defalcations, 
deaths of unknown loafers, robberies, monstrous 
births, — say about the level of police-court news. 

Our Next Door. I have even noticed that 
murders have deteriorated ; they are not so high- 
toned and mysterious as they used to be. 

The Fire-Tender. It is true that the news- 
papers have improved vastly within the last decade. 

Herbert. I think, for one, that they are very 
much above the level of the ordinary gossip of the 
country. 

The Fire-Tender. But I am tired of having 



BACKLOG STUDIES 137 

the under-world still occupy so much room in the 
newspapers. The reporters are rather more alert 
for a dog-fight than a philological convention. It 
must be that the good deeds of the world outnum- 
ber the bad in any given day ; and what a good re- 
flex action it would have on society if they could 
be more fully reported than the bad ! I suppose 
the Parson would call this the Enthusiasm of Hu- 
manity. 

The Parson. You '11 see how far you can lift 
yourself up by your boot-straps. 

Herbert. I wonder what influence on the qual- 
ity (I say nothing of quantity) of news the coming 
of women into the reporter s and editor's work will 
have. 

Our Next Door. There are the baby-shows ; 
they make cheerful reading. 

The Mistress. All of them got up by specu- 
lating men, who' impose upon the vanity of weak 
women. 

Herbert. I think women reporters are more 
given to personal details and gossip than the men. 
When I read the Washington correspondence I am 
proud of my country, to see how many Apollo Bel- 
vederes, Adonises, how much marble brow and 
piercing eye and hyacinthine locks, we have in the 
two houses of Congress. 

The Young Lady. That *s simply because 



138 BACKLOG STUDIES 

women understand the personal weakness of men ; 
they have a long score of personal flattery to pay 
off too. 

Mandeville. I think women will bring in ele- 
ments of brightness, picturesqueness, and purity 
very much needed. Women have a power of in- 
vesting simple ordinary things with a charm ; men 
are bungling narrators compared with them. 

The Parson. The mistake they make is in try- 
ing to write, and especially to " stump-speak," like 
men ; next to an effeminate man there is nothing 
so disagreeable as a mannish woman. 

Herbert. I heard one once address a legisla- 
tive committee. The knowing air, the familiar, 
jocular, smart manner, the nodding and winking 
innuendoes, supposed to be those of a man " up to 
snuff" and aufait in political wiles, were inexpres- 
sibly comical. And yet the exhibition was pathetic, 
for it had the suggestive vulgarity of a woman in 
man's clothes. The imitation is always a dreary 
failure. 

The Mistress. Such women are the rare ex- 
ceptions. I am ready to defend my sex ; but I 
won't attempt to defend both sexes in one. 

The Fire-Tender. I have great hope that 
women will bring into the newspaper an elevating 
influence ; the common and sweet life of society is 
much better fitted to entertain and instruct us than 



BACKLOG STUDIES 139 

the exceptional and extravagant. I confess (sav- 
ing the Mistress's presence) that the evening talk 
over the dessert at dinner is much more entertain- 
ing and piquant than the morning paper, and often 
as important. 

The Mistress. I think the subject had better 
be changed. 

Mandeville. The person, not the subject. 
There is no entertainment so full of quiet pleasure 
as the hearing a lady of cultivation and refinement 
relate her day's experience in her daily rounds of 
calls, charitable visits, shopping, errands of relief 
and condolence. The evening budget is better 
than the finance minister's. 

Our Next Door. That's even so. My wife will 
pick up more news in six hours than I can get in a 
week, and I 'm fond of news. 

Mandeville. I don't mean gossip, by any 
means, or scandal. A woman of culture skims over 
that like a bird, never touching it with the tip of 
a wing. What she brings home is the freshness 
and brightness of life. She touches everything so 
daintily, she hits off a character in a sentence, she 
gives the pith of a dialogue without tediousness, she 
mimics without vulgarity ; her narration sparkles, 
but it does n't sting. The picture of her day is full 
of vivacity, and it gives new value and freshness to 
common things. If we could only have on the 



140 BACKLOG STUDIES 

stage such actresses as we have in the drawing- 
room! 

The Fire-Tender. We want something more 
of this grace, sprightliness, and harmless play of the 
iiner life of society in the newspaper. 

Our Next Door. I wonder Mandeville does n't 
marry, and become a permanent subscriber to his 
embodied idea of a newspaper. 

The Young Lady. Perhaps he does not relish 
the idea of being unable to stop his subscription. 

Our Next Door. Parson, won't you please 
punch that fire, and give us more blaze ? We are 
getting into the darkness of socialism. 

Ill 

Herbert returned to us in March. The Young 
Lady was spending the winter with us, and March, 
in spite of the calendar, turned out to be a winter 
month. It usually is in New England, and April 
too, for that matter. And I cannot say it is unfor- 
tunate for us. There are so many topics to be 
turned over and settled at our fireside that a winter 
of ordinary length would make little impression on 
the list. The fireside is, after all, a sort of private 
court of chancery, where nothing ever does come to 
a final decision. The chief effect of talk on any 
subject is to strengthen one's own opinions, and, in 
fact, one never knows exactly what he does believe 



BACKLOG STUDIES 141 

until he is warmed into conviction by the heat of 
attack and defense. A man left to himself drifts 
about like a boat on a calm lake ; it is only when 
the wind blows that the boat goes anywhere. 

Herbert said he had been dipping into the recent 
novels written by women, here and there, with a 
view to noting the effect upon literature of this 
sudden and rather overwhelming accession to it. 
There was a good deal of talk about it evening after 
evening, off and on, and I can only undertake to 
set down fragments of it. 

Herbert. I should say that the distinguishing 
feature of the literature of this day is the promi- 
nence women have in its production. They figure 
in most of the magazines, though very rarely in 
the scholarly and critical reviews, and in thousands 
of newspapers ; to them we are indebted for the 
oceans of Sunday-school books, and theywrite the 
majority of the novels, the serial stories, and they 
mainly pour out the watery flood of tales in the 
weekly papers. Whether this is to result in more 
good than evil it is impossible yet to say, and per- 
haps it would be unjust to say, until this generation 
has worked off its froth, and women settle down to 
artistic, conscientious labor in literature. 

The Mistress. You don't mean to say that 
George Eliot, and Mrs. Gaskell, and George Sand, 
and Mrs. Browning before her marriage and severe 



142 BACKLOG STUDIES 

attack of spiritism, are less true to art than contem- 
porary men novelists and poets ? 

Herbert. You name some exceptions that show 
the bright side of the picture, not only for the 
present, but for the future. Perhaps genius has no 
sex ; but ordinary talent has. I refer to the great 
body of novels, which you would know by internal 
evidence were written by women. They are of two 
sorts : the domestic story, entirely unidealized, and 
as flavorless as water-gruel ; and the spiced novel, 
generally immoral in tendency, in which the social 
problems are handled, unhappy marriages, affinity 
and passional attraction, bigamy, and the violation 
of the seventh commandment. These subjects are 
treated in the rawest manner, without any settled 
ethics, with little discrimination of eternal right and 
wrong, and with very little sense of responsibility for 
what is set forth. Many of these novels are merely 
the blind outbursts of a nature impatient of restraint 
and the conventionalities of society, and are as cha- 
otic as the untrained minds that produce them. 

Mandeville. Don't you think these novels 
fairly represent a social condition of unrest and 
upheaval ? 

Herbert. Very likely ; and they help to create 
and spread abroad the discontent they describe. 
Stories of bigamy (sometimes disguised by divorce), 
of unhappy marriages, where the injured wife, 



BACKLOG STUDIES 143 

through an entire volume, is on the brink of falling 
into the arms of a sneaking lover, until death 
kindly removes the obstacle, and the two souls, who 
were born for each other, but got separated in the 
cradle, melt and mingle into one in the last chapter, 
are not healthful reading for maids or mothers. 

The Mistress. Or men. 

The Fire-Tender. The most disagreeable ob- 
ject to me in modern literature is the man the 
women novelists have introduced as the leading 
character ; the women who come in contact with 
him seem to be fascinated by his disdainful mien, 
his giant strength, and his brutal manner. He is 
broad across the shoulders, heavily moulded, yet as 
lithe as a cat ; has an ugly scar across his right 
cheek ; has been in the four quarters of the globe ; 
knows seventeen languages ; had a harem in Tur- 
key and a Fayaway in the Marquesas ; can be as 
polished as Bayard in the drawing-room, but is as 
gloomy as Conrad in the library ; has a terrible eye 
and a withering glance, but can be instantly sub- 
dued by a woman's hand, if it is not his wife's ; and 
through all his morose and vicious career has car- 
ried a heart as pure as a violet. 

The Mistress. Don't you think the Count of 
Monte Cristo is the elder brother of Rochester ? 

The Fire-Tender. One is a mere hero of ro- 
mance ; the other is meant for a real man. 



144 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Mandeville. I don't see that the men novel- 
writers are better than the women. 

Herbert. That 's not the question ; but what 
are women who write so large a proportion of the 
current stories bringing into literature ? Aside 
from the question of morals, and the absolutely 
demoralizing manner of treating social questions, 
most of their stories are vapid and weak beyond 
expression, and are slovenly in composition, show- 
ing neither study, training, nor mental discipline. 

The Mistress. Considering that women have 
been shut out from the training of the universities, 
and have few opportunities for the wide observation 
that men enjoy, isn't it pretty well that the fore- 
most living writers of fiction are women ? 

Herbert. You can say that for the moment, 
since Thackeray and Dickens have just died. But 
it does not affect the general estimate. We are 
inundated with a flood of weak writing. Take the 
Sunday-school literature, largely the product of 
women ; it has n't as much character as a dried- 
apple pie. I don't know what we are coming to if 
the presses keep on running. 

Our Next Door. We are living, we are dwell- 
ing, in a grand and awful time ; I 'm glad I don't 
write novels. 

The Parson. So am I. 

Our Next Door. I tried a Sunday-school book 



BACKLOG STUDIES 145 

once ; but I made the good boy end in the poor- 
house, and the bad boy go to Congress ; and the 
publisher said it would n't do, the public would n't 
stand that sort of thing. Nobody but the good go 
to Congress. 

The Mistress. Herbert, what do you think 
women are good for ? 

Our Next Door. That 's a poser. 

Herbert. Well, I think they are in a tentative 
state as to literature, and we cannot yet tell what 
they will do. Some of our most brilliant books 
of travel, correspondence, and writing on topics 
in which their sympathies have warmly interested 
them are by women. Some of them are also strong 
writers in the daily journals. 

Mandeville. I 'm not sure there *s anything a 
woman cannot do as well as a man, if she sets her 
heart on it. 

The Parson. That's because she's no con- 
science. 

Chorus. Oh, Parson! 

The Parson. Well, it doesn't trouble her, if 
she wants to do anything. She looks at the end, 
not the means. A woman, set on anything, will 
walk right through the moral crockery without 
wincing. She'd be a great deal more unscrupu- 
lous in politics than the average man. Did you 
ever see a female lobbyist ? Or a criminal } It is 



146 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Lady Macbeth who does not falter. Don't raise 
your hands at me ! The sweetest angel or the cool- 
est devil is a woman. I see in some of the modern 
novels we have been talking of the same unscrupu- 
lous daring, a blindness to moral distinctions, a con- 
stant exaltation of a passion into a virtue, an entire 
disregard of the immutable laws on which the 
family and society rest. And you ask lawyers and 
trustees how scrupulous women are in business 
transactions ! 

The Fire-Tender. Women are often ignorant 
of affairs, and, besides, they may have a notion 
often that a woman ought to be privileged more 
than a man in business matters ; but I tell you, as 
a rule, that if men would consult their wives, they 
would go a deal straighter in business operations 
than they do go. 

The Parson. We are all poor sinners. But 
I Ve another indictment against the women writers. 
We get no good old-fashioned love stories from 
them. It 's either a quarrel of discordant natures 
— one a panther and the other a polar bear — for 
courtship, until one of them is crippled by a rail- 
way accident ; or a long wrangle of married life 
between two unpleasant people, who can neither 
live comfortably together nor apart. I suppose, by 
what I see, that sweet wooing, with all its tortur- 
ing and delightful uncertainty, still goes on in the 



BACKLOG STUDIES 147 

world ; and I have no doubt that the majority of 
married people live more happily than the unmar- 
ried. But it 's easier to find a dodo than a new and 
good love-story. 

Mandeville. I suppose the old style of plot is 
exhausted. Everything in man and outside of him 
has been turned over so often that I should think 
the novelists would cease simply from want of 
material. 

The Parson. Plots are no more exhausted than 
men are. Every man is a new creation, and com- 
binations are simply endless. Even if we did not 
have new material in the daily change of society, 
and there were only a fixed number of incidents and 
characters in life, invention could not be exhausted 
on them. I amuse myself sometimes with my ka- 
leidoscope, but I can never reproduce a figure. No, 
no. I cannot say that you may not exhaust every- 
thing else : we may get all the secrets of a nature 
into a book by and by, but the novel is immortal, 
for it deals with men. 

The Parson's vehemence came very near carry- 
ing him into a sermon; and as nobody has the 
privilege of replying to his sermons, so none of the 
circle made any reply now. 

Our Next Door mumbled something about his 
hair standing on end, to hear a minister defending 
the novel ; but it did not interrupt the general 



148 BACKLOG STUDIES 

silence. Silence is unnoticed when people sit before 
a fire ; it would be intolerable if they sat and looked 
at each other. 

The wind had risen during the evening, and Man- 
deville remarked, as they rose to go, that it had a 
spring sound in it, but it was as cold as winter. 
The Mistress said she heard a bird that morning 
singing in the sun ; it was a winter bird, but it sang 
a spring song. 



SEVENTH STUDY 




SEVENTH STUDY 

WE have been much interested in what is 
called the Gothic revival. We have 
spent I don't know how many even- 
ings in looking over Herbert's plans for a cottage, 
and have been amused with his vain efforts to cover 
with Gothic roofs the vast number of large rooms 
which the Young Lady draws in her sketch of a 
small house. 

I have no doubt that the Gothic, which is capable 
of infinite modification, so that every house built in 
that style may be as different from every other 
house as one tree is from every other, can be 
adapted to our modern uses, and will be, when 
artists catch its spirit instead of merely copying its 



152 BACKLOG STUDIES 

old forms. But just now we are taking the Gothic 
very literally, as we took the Greek at one time, or 
as we should probably have taken the Saracenic, if 
the Moors had not been colored. Not even the 
cholera is so contagious in this country as a style of 
architecture which we happen to catch ; the country 
is just now broken out all over with the Mansard- 
roof epidemic. 

And in secular architecture we do not study what 
is adapted to our climate any more than in ecclesi- 
astic architecture we adopt that which is suited to 
our religion. 

We are building a great many costly churches 
here and there, we Protestants, and as the most of 
them are ill adapted to our forms of worship, it may 
be necessary and best for us to change our reli- 
gion in order to save our investments. I am aware 
that this would be a grave step, and we should not 
hasten to throw overboard Luther and the right 
of private judgment without reflection. And yet, 
if it is necessary to revive the ecclesiastical Gothic 
architecture, not in its spirit (that we nowhere do), 
but in the form which served another age and an- 
other faith, and if, as it appears, we have already a 
great deal of money invested in this reproduction, 
it may be more prudent to go forward than to go 
back. The question is, " Cannot one easier change 
his creed than his pew ? " 



BACKLOG STUDIES 153 

I occupy a seat in church which is an admirable 
one for reflection, but I cannot see or hear much 
that is going on in what we hke to call the apse. 
There is a splendid stone pillar, a clustered column, 
right in front of me, and I am as much protected 
from the minister as Old Put's troops were from 
the British, behind the stone wall at Bunker's Hill. 
I can hear his voice occasionally wandering round 
in the arches overhead, and I recognize the tone, 
because he is a friend of mine and an excellent man, 
but what he is saying I can very seldom make out. 
If there was any incense burning I could smell it, 
and that would be something. I rather like the 
smell of incense, and it has its holy associations. 
But there is no smell in our church, except of bad 
air, — for there is no provision for ventilation in the 
splendid and costly edifice. The reproduction of 
the old Gothic is so complete that the builders even 
seem to have brought over the ancient air from one 
of the churches of the Middle Ages, — you would 
declare it had n't been changed in two centuries. 

I am expected to fix my attention during the ser- 
vice upon one man, who stands in the centre of the 
apse and has a sounding-board behind him in order 
to throw his voice out of the sacred semicircular 
space (where the altar used to stand, but now the 
sounding-board takes the place of the altar) and 
scatter it over the congregation at large, and send 



154 BACKLOG STUDIES 

it echoing up in the groined roof. I always like to 
hear a minister who is unfamiliar with the house, 
and who has a loud voice, try to fill the edifice. 
The more he roars and gives himself with vehe- 
mence to the effort, the more the building roars in 
indistinguishable noise and hubbub. By the time 
he has said (to suppose a case), "The Lord is in 
his holy temple," and has passed on to say, " let 
all the earth keep silence," the building is repeat- 
ing "The Lord is in his holy temple" from half a 
dozen different angles and altitudes, rolling it and 
growling it, and is not keeping silence at all. A 
man who understands it waits until the house has 
had its say, and has digested one passage, before 
he launches another into the vast, echoing spaces. 
I am expected, as I said, to fix my eye and mind on 
the minister, the central point of the service. But 
the pillar hides him. Now if there were several 
ministers in the church, dressed in such gorgeous 
colors that I could see them at the distance from 
the apse in which my limited income compels me 
to sit, and candles were burning, and censers were 
swinging, and the platform was full of the sacred 
bustle of a gorgeous ritual worship, and a bell rang 
to tell me the holy moments, I should not mind the 
pillar at all. I should sit there, like any other Goth, 
and enjoy it. But, as I have said, the pastor is a 
friend of mine, and I like to look at him on Sun- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 155 

day, and hear what he says, for he always says 
something worth hearing. I am on such terms 
with him, indeed we all are, that it would be plea- 
sant to have the service of a little more social na- 
ture, and more human. When we put him away 
off in the apse, and set him up for a Goth, and then 
seat ourselves at a distance, scattered about among 
the pillars, the whole thing seems to me a trifle 
unnatural. Though I do not mean to say that 
the congregations do not "enjoy their religion" in 
their splendid edifices which cost so much money 
and are really so beautiful. 

A good many people have the idea, so it seems, 
that Gothic architecture and Christianity are essen- 
tially one and the same thing ; just as many regard 
it as an act of piety to work an altar cloth or to 
cushion a pulpit. It may be, and it may not be. 

Our Gothic church is likely to prove to us a valu- 
able religious experience, bringing out many of 
the Christian virtues. It may have had its origin 
in pride, but it is all being overruled for our good. 
Of course I need n't explain that it is the thir- 
teenth century ecclesiastic Gothic that is epidemic 
in this country; and I think it has attacked the 
Congregational and the other non-ritual churches 
more violently than any others. We have had it 
here in its most beautiful and dangerous forms. I 
believe we are pretty much all of us supplied with 



iS6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

a Gothic church now. Such has been the enthu- 
siasm in this devout direction that I should not be 
surprised to see our rich private citizens putting up 
Gothic churches for their individual amusement and 
sanctification. As the day will probably come when 
every man in Hartford will live in his own mam- 
moth five-story granite insurance building, it may 
not be unreasonable to expect that every man will 
sport his own Gothic church. It is beginning to 
be discovered that the Gothic sort of church edi- 
fice is fatal to the Congregational style of worship 
that has been prevalent here in New England ; but 
it will do nicely (as they say in Boston) for private 
devotion. 

There is n't a finer or a purer church than ours 
anywhere, inside and outside, Gothic to the last. 
The elevation of the nave gives it even that " high- 
shouldered" appearance which seemed more than 
anything else to impress Mr. Hawthorne in the 
cathedral at Amiens. I fancy that for genuine 
high-shoulderedness we are not exceeded by any 
church in the city. Our chapel in the rear is as 
Gothic as the rest of it, — a beautiful little edifice. 
The committee forgot to make any more provision 
for ventilating that than the church, and it takes a 
pretty well-seasoned Christian to stay in it long at 
a time. The Sunday-school is held there, and it is 
thought to be best to accustom the children to bad 



BACKLOG STUDIES 157 

air before they go into the church. The poor little 
dears should n't have the wickedness and impurity 
of this world break on them too suddenly. If 
the stranger noticed any lack about our church, it 
would be that of a spire. There is a place for one ; 
indeed, it was begun, and then the builders seem to 
have stopped, with the notion that it would grow 
itself from such a good root. It is a mistake, how- 
ever, to suppose that we do not know that the 
church has what the profane here call a " stump- 
tail " appearance. But the profane are as ignorant 
of history as they are of true Gothic. All the Old 
World cathedrals were the work of centuries. That 
at Milan is scarcely finished yet; the unfinished 
spires of the Cologne cathedral are one of the best- 
known features of it. I doubt if it would be in 
the Gothic spirit to finish a church at once. We 
can tell cavilers that we shall have a spire at the 
proper time, and not a minute before. It may de- 
pend a little upon what the Baptists do, who are to 
build near us. I, for one, think we had better wait 
and see how high the Baptist spire is before we 
run ours up. The church is everything that could 
be desired inside. There is the nave, with its lofty 
and beautiful arched ceiling ; there are the side 
aisles, and two elegant rows of stone pillars, stained 
so as to be perfect imitation of stucco ; there is 
the apse, witTi its stained glass and exquisite lines ; 



158 BACKLOG STUDIES 

and there is an organ-loft over the front entrance, 
with a rose window. Nothing was wanting, so 
far as we could see, except that we should adapt 
ourselves to the circumstances ; and that we have 
been trying to do ever since. It may be well to re- 
late how we do it, for the benefit of other inchoate 
Goths. It was found that if we put up the organ 
in the loft, it would hide the beautiful rose window. 
Besides, we wanted congregational singing, and if 
we hired a choir, and hung it up there under the 
roof, like a cage of birds, we should not have con- 
gregational singing. We therefore left the organ- 
loft vacant, making no further use of it than to 
satisfy our Gothic cravings. As for choir, several 
of the singers of the church volunteered to sit to- 
gether in the front side-seats, and as there was no 
place for an organ, they gallantly rallied round a 
melodeon, — or perhaps it is a cabinet organ, — a 
charming instrument, and, as everybody knows, en- 
tirely in keeping with the pillars, arches, and great 
spaces of a real Gothic edifice. It is the union of 
simplicity with grandeur, for which we have all 
been looking. I need not say to those who have 
ever heard a melodeon that there is nothing like it. 
It is rare, even in the finest churches on the Con- 
tinent. And we had congregational singing. And 
it went very well indeed. One of the advantages 
of pure congregational singing is that you can join 



The disadvantage of congregational singing 



ed not 



■^WV^U'^I \RX^';iJ\W^%'r^W«S-i\i ^^5i\«\^vj\^r^i,^^Si -^iVt 



BACKLOG STUDIES 159 

in the singing whether you have a voice or not. 
The disadvantage is that your neighbor can do the 
same. It is strange what an uncommonly poor lot 
of voices there is, even among good people. But 
we enjoy it. If you do not enjoy it, you can change 
your seat until you get among a good lot. 

So far, everything went well. But it was next 
discovered that it was difficult to hear the minister, 
who had a very handsome little desk in the apse, 
somewhat distant from the bulk of the congrega- 
tion ; still, we could most of us see him on a clear 
day. The church was admirably built for echoes, 
and the centre of the house was very favorable to 
them. When you sat in the centre of the house, 
it sometimes seemed as if three or four ministers 
were speaking. It is usually so in cathedrals ; the 
Right Reverend So-and-So is assisted by the very 
Reverend Such-and-Such, and the good deal Rever- 
end Thus-and-Thus, and so on. But a good deal of 
the minister's voice appeared to go up into the 
groined arches, and, as there was no one up there, 
his best things were lost. We also had a notion 
that some of it went into the cavernous organ-loft. 
It would have been all right if there had been a 
choir there, for choirs usually need more preach- 
ing, and pay less heed to it, than any other part of 
the congregation. Well, we drew a sort of screen 
over the organ-loft ; but the result was not as 



i6o BACKLOG STUDIES 

marked as we had hoped. We next devised a 
sounding-board, — a sort of mammoth clam-shell, 
painted white, — and erected it behind the minister. 
It had a good effect on the minister. It kept him 
up straight to his work. So long as he kept his 
head exactly in the focus, his voice went out and 
did not return to him ; but if he moved either way 
he was assailed by a Babel of clamoring echoes. 
There was no opportunity for him to splurge about 
from side to side of the pulpit, as some do. And if 
he raised his voice much, or attempted any extra 
flights, he was liable to be drowned in a refluent 
sea of his own eloquence. And he could hear the 
congregation as well as they could hear him. All 
the coughs, whispers, noises, were gathered in the 
wooden tympanum behind him, and poured into his 
ears. 

But the sounding-board was an improvement, and 
we advanced to bolder measures ; having heard a 
little, we wanted to hear more. Besides, those who 
sat in front began to be discontented with the 
melodeon. There are depths in music which the 
melodeon, even when it is called a cabinet organ, 
with a colored boy at the bellows, cannot sound. 
The melodeon was not, originally, designed for the 
Gothic worship. We determined to have an organ, 
and we speculated whether, by erecting it in the 
apse, we could not fill up that elegant portion of the 



BACKLOG STUDIES i6i 

church, and compel the preacher's voice to leave it, 
and go out over the pews. It would of course do 
something to efface the main beauty of a Gothic 
church ; but something must be done, and we be- 
gan a series of experiments to test the probable 
effects of putting the organ and choir behind the 
minister. We moved the desk to the very front of 
the platform, and erected behind it a high, square 
board screen, like a section of tight fence round 
the fair-grounds. This did help matters. The 
minister spoke with more ease, and we could hear 
him better. If the screen had been intended to 
stay there, we should have agitated the subject of 
painting it. But this was only an experiment. 

Our next move was to shove the screen back and 
mount the volunteer singers, melodeon and all, upon 
the platform, — some twenty of them crowded to- 
gether behind the minister. The effect was beau- 
tiful. It seemed as if we had taken care to select 
the finest-looking people in the congregation, — 
much to the injury of the congregation, of course, 
as seen from the platform. There are few congre- 
gations that can stand this sort of culling, though 
ours can endure it as well as any ; yet it devolves 
upon those of us who remain the responsibility of 
looking as well as we can. The experiment was a 
success, so far as appearances went, but when the 
screen went back the minister's voice went back 



i62 BACKLOG STUDIES 

with it. We could not hear him very well, though 
we could hear the choir as plain as day. We have 
thought of remedying this last defect by putting 
the high screen in front of the singers, and close 
to the minister, as it was before. This would make 
the singers invisible, — ** though lost to sight, to 
memory dear," — what is sometimes called an 
"angel choir," when the singers (and the melo- 
deon) are concealed, with the most subdued and 
religious effect. It is often so in cathedrals. 

This plan would have another advantage. The 
singers on the platform, all handsome and well 
dressed, distract our attention from the minister, 
and what he is saying. We cannot help looking at 
them, studying all the faces and all the dresses. If 
one of them sits up very straight, he is a rebuke to 
us ; if he " lops " over, we wonder why he does n't 
sit up ; if his hair is white, we wonder whether it is 
age or family peculiarity ; if he yawns, we want to 
yawn ; if he takes up a hymn-book, we wonder if he 
is uninterested in the sermon ; we look at the bon- 
nets, and query if that is the latest spring style, or 
whether we are to look for another ; if he shaves 
close, we wonder why he doesn't let his beard 
grow ; if he has long whiskers, we wonder why he 
does n't trim 'em ; if she sighs, we feel sorry ; if she 
smiles, we would like to know what it is about. 
And then suppose any of the singers should ever 



BACKLOG STUDIES 163 

want to eat fennel, or peppermints, or Brown's 
troches, and pass them round ! Suppose the sing- 
ers, more or less of them, should sneeze ! Suppose 
one or two of them, as the handsomest people 
sometimes will, should go to sleep ! In short, the 
singers there take away all our attention from the 
minister, and would do so if they were the home- 
liest people in the world. We must try something 
else. 

It is needless to explain that a Gothic religious 
life is not an idle one. 



EIGHTH STUDY 




EIGHTH STUDY 



PERHAPS the clothes question is exhausted, 
philosophically. I cannot but regret that 
the Poet of the Breakfast - Table, who ap- 
pears to have an uncontrollable penchant for say- 
ing the things you would like to say yourself, has 
alluded to the anachronism of " Sir Cceur de Lion 
Plantagenet in the mutton-chop whiskers and the 
plain gray suit." A great many scribblers have 
felt the disadvantage of writing after Montaigne ; 
and it is impossible to tell how much originality in 
others Dr. Holmes has destroyed in this country. 
In whist there are some men you always prefer to 
have on your left hand, and I take it that this intui- 
tive essayist, who is so alert to seize the few re- 



i68 BACKLOG STUDIES 

maining unappropriated ideas and analogies in the 
world, is one of them. 

No doubt if the Plant agenets of this day were 
required to dress in a suit of chain-armor and wear 
iron pots on their heads, they would be as ridicu- 
lous as most tragedy actors on the stage. The pit 
which recognizes Snooks in his tin breastplate and 
helmet laughs at him, and Snooks himself feels like 
a sheep ; and when the great tragedian comes on, 
shining in mail, dragging a two-handed sword, and 
mouths the grandiloquence which poets have put 
into the speech of heroes, the dress-circle requires 
all its good-breeding and its feigned love of the tra- 
ditionary drama not to titter. 

If this sort of acting, — which is supposed to 
have come down to us from the Elizabethan 
age, and which culminated in the school of the 
Keans, Kembles, and Siddonses, — ever had any 
fidelity to life, it must have been in a society as 
artificial as the prose of Sir Philip Sidney. That 
anybody ever believed in it is difficult to think, 
especially when we read what privileges the fine 
beaux and gallants of the town took behind the 
scenes and on the stage in the golden days of the 
drama. When a part of the audience sat on 
the stage, and gentlemen lounged or reeled across 
it in the midst of a play, to speak to acquaintances 
in the audience, the illusion could not have been 
very strong. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 169 

Now and then a genius, like Rachel as Horatia, 
or Hackett as Falstaff, may actually seem to be 
the character assumed by virtue of a transforming 
imagination ; but I suppose the fact to be that 
getting into a costume, absurdly antiquated and 
remote from all the habits and associations of 
the actor, largely accounts for the incongruity 
and ridiculousness of most of our modern acting. 
Whether what is called the "legitimate drama" 
ever was legitimate we do not know, but the advo- 
cates of it appear to think that the theatre was 
some time cast in a mould, once for all, and is good 
for all times and peoples, like the propositions of 
Euclid. To our eyes the legitimate drama of to- 
day is the one in which the day is reflected, both 
in costume and speech, and which touches the 
affections, the passions, the humor, of the present 
time. The brilliant success of the few good plays 
that have been written out of the rich life which 
we now live — the most varied, fruitful, and dra- 
matically suggestive — ought to rid us forever of 
the buskin-fustian, except as a pantomimic or spec- 
tacular curiosity. 

We have no objection to Julius Caesar or Richard 
III. stalking about in impossible clothes, and step- 
ping four feet at a stride, if they want to, but let 
them not claim to be more "legitimate" than 
" Ours " or " Rip Van Winkle." There will prob- 



I70 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ably be some orator for years and years to come, at 
every Fourth of July, who will go on asking. Where 
is Thebes ? but he does not care anything about it, 
and he does not really expect an answer. I have 
sometimes wished I knew the exact site of Thebes, 
so that I could rise in the audience, and stop that 
question, at any rate. It is legitimate, but it is 
tiresome. 

If we went to the bottom of this subject, I think 
we should find that the putting upon actors clothes 
to which they are unaccustomed makes them act 
and talk artificially, and often in a manner intoler- 
able. An actor who has not the habits or instincts 
of a gentleman cannot be made to appear like one 
on the stage by dress ; he only caricatures and dis- 
credits what he tries to represent ; and the unac- 
customed clothes and situation make him much 
more unnatural and insufferable than he would 
otherwise be. Dressed appropriately for parts for 
which he is fitted, he will act well enough, probably. 
What I mean is that the clothes inappropriate to 
the man make the incongruity of him and his part 
more apparent. Vulgarity is never so conspicuous 
as in fine apparel, on or off the stage, and never so 
self-conscious. Shall we have, then, no refined 
characters on the stage .^ Yes; but let them be 
taken by men and women of taste and refinement, 
and let us have done with this masquerading in 



BACKLOG STUDIES 171 

false raiment, ancient and modern, which makes 
nearly every stage a travesty of nature and the 
whole theatre a painful pretension. We do not ex- 
pect the modern theatre to be a place of instruction 
(that business is now turned over to the telegraphic 
operator who is making a new language), but it may 
give amusement instead of torture, and do a little 
in satirizing folly and kindling love of home and 
country by the way. 

This is a sort of summary of what we all said, 
and no one in particular is responsible for it ; and 
in this it is like public opinion. The Parson, how- 
ever, whose only experience of the theatre was the 
endurance of an oratorio once, was very cordial in 
his denunciation of the stage altogether. 

Mandeville. Yet, acting itself is delightful ; 
nothing so entertains us as mimicry, the personation 
of character. We enjoy it in private. I confess 
that I am always pleased with the Parson in the 
character of grumbler. He would be an immense 
success on the stage. I don't know but the theatre 
will have to go back into the hands of the priests, 
who once controlled it. 

The Parson. Scoffer ! 

Mandeville. I can imagine how enjoyable the 
stage might be, cleared of all its traditionary non- 
sense, stilted language, stilted behavior, all the rub- 
bish of false sentiment, false dress, and the man- 



1/2 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ners of times that were both artificial and immoral, 
and filled with living characters who speak the 
thought of to-day, with the wit and culture that 
are current to-day. I 've seen private theatricals, 
where all the performers were persons of cultiva- 
tion, that — 

Our Next Door. So have I. For something 
particularly cheerful, commend me to amateur the- 
atricals. I have passed some melancholy hours at 
them. 

Mandeville. That's because the performers 
acted the worn stage plays, and attempted to do 
them in the manner they had seen on the stage. 
It is not always so. 

The Fire-Tender. I suppose Mandeville would 
say that acting has got into a mannerism which 
is well described as stagey; and is supposed to be 
natural to the stage, just as half the modern poets 
write in a recognized form of literary manufacture, 
without the least impulse from within, and not with 
the purpose of saying anything, but of turning out 
a piece of literary work. That 's the reason we have 
so much poetry that impresses one like sets of 
faultless cabinet-furniture made by machinery. 

The Parson. But you need n't talk of nature 
or naturalness in acting or in anything. I tell you 
nature is poor stuff. It can't go alone. Amateur 
acting — they get it up at church sociables nowa- 



Scoffer 



/" 



■^'%:iZ » 



BACKLOG STUDIES 173 

days — is apt to be as near nature as a school-boy's 
declamation. Acting is the Devil's art. 

The Mistress. Do you object to such innocent 
amusement ? 

Mandeville. What the Parson objects to is 
that he is n't amused. 

The Parson. What's the use of objecting.^ 
It 's the fashion of the day to amuse people into 
the kingdom of heaven. 

Herbert. The Parson has got us off the track. 
My notion about the stage is that it keeps along 
pretty evenly with the rest of the world ; the stage 
is usually quite up to the level of the audience. 
Assumed dress on the stage, since you were speak- 
ing of that, makes people no more constrained and 
self-conscious than it does off the stage. 

The Mistress. What sarcasm is coming now ? 

Herbert. Well, you may laugh, but the world 
has n't got used to good clothes yet. The majority 
do not wear them with ease. People who only put 
on their best on rare and stated occasions step into 
an artificial feeling. 

Our Next Door. I wonder if that 's the reason 
the Parson finds it so difficult to get hold of his 
congregation. 

Herbert. I don't know how else to account 
for the formality and vapidity of a set "party," 
where all the guests are clothed in a manner to 



174 BACKLOG STUDIES 

which they are unaccustomed, dressed into a con- 
dition of vivid self-consciousness. The same peo- 
ple, who know each other perfectly well, will enjoy 
themselves together without restraint in their ordi- 
nary apparel. But nothing can be more artificial 
than the behavior of people together who rarely 
"dress up." It seems impossible to make the 
conversation as fine as the clothes, and so it dies in 
a kind of inane helplessness. Especially is this 
true in the country, where people have not obtained 
the mastery of their clothes that those who live in 
the city have. It is really absurd, at this stage of 
our civilization, that we should be so affected by 
such an insignificant accident as dress. Perhaps 
Mandeville can tell us whether this clothes panic 
prevails in the older societies. 

The Parson. Don't. We Ve heard it ; about 
its being one of the Englishman's thirty-nine ar- 
ticles that he never shall sit down to dinner without 
a dress-coat, and all that. 

The Mistress. I wish, for my part, that every- 
body who has time to eat a dinner would dress for 
that, the principal event of the day, and do respect- 
ful and leisurely justice to it. 

The Young Lady. It has always seemed sin- 
gular to me that men who work so hard to build 
elegant houses, and have good dinners, should take 
so little leisure to enjoy either. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 175 

Mandeville. If the Parson will permit me, I 
should say that the chief clothes question abroad 
just now is, how to get any ; and it is the same 
with the dinners. 



II 

It is quite unnecessary to say that the talk about 
clothes ran into the question of dress reform, and 
ran out, of course. You cannot converse on any- 
thing nowadays that you do not run into some re- 
form. The Parson says that everybody is intent on 
reforming everything but himself. We are all try- 
ing to associate ourselves to make everybody else 
behave as we do. Said 

Our Next Door. Dress reform ! As if people 
could n't change their clothes without concert of 
action. Resolved, that nobody should put on a 
clean collar oftener than his neighbor does. I 'm 
sick of every sort of reform. I should like to retro- 
grade awhile. Let a dyspeptic ascertain that he 
can eat porridge three times a day and live, and 
straightway he insists that everybody ought to eat 
porridge and nothing else. I mean to get up a 
society every member of which shall be pledged to 
do just as he pleases. 

The Parson. That would be the most radical 
reform of the day. That would be independence. 



176 BACKLOG STUDIES 

If people dressed according to their means, acted 
according to their convictions, and avowed their 
opinions, it would revolutionize society. 

Our Next Door. I should like to walk into 
your church some Sunday and see the changes 
under such conditions. 

The Parson. It might give you a novel sensa- 
tion to walk in at any time. And I 'm not sure but 
the church would suit your retrograde ideas. It 's 
so Gothic that a Christian of the Middle Ages, if he 
were alive, could n*t see or hear in it. 

Herbert. I don't know whether these reformers 
who carry the world on their shoulders in such 
serious fashion, especially the little fussy fellows, 
who are themselves the standard of the regenera- 
tion they seek, are more ludicrous than pathetic. 

The Fire-Tender. Pathetic, by all means. But 
I don't know that they would be pathetic if they 
were not ludicrous. There are those reform singers 
who have been piping away so sweetly now for 
thirty years, with never any diminution of cheerful, 
patient enthusiasm ; their hair growing longer and 
longer, their eyes brighter and brighter, and their 
faces, I do believe, sweeter and sweeter; singing 
always with the same constancy for the slave, for 
the drunkard, for the snuff-taker, for the suffragist, 
" There' s-a-good-time-com-ing-boys (nothing offen- 
sive is intended by " boys ; " it is put in for eu- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 177 

phony, and sung pianissimo, not to offend the 
suffragists), it 's-almost-here." And what a bright- 
ening up of their faces there is when they say " it 's 
almost here," not doubting for a moment that "it 's*' 
coming to-morrow ; and the accompanying melodeon 
also wails its wheezy suggestion that " it 's almost 
here," that " good time " (delayed so long, waiting 
perhaps for the invention of the melodeon) when 
we shall all sing and all play that cheerful instru- 
ment, and all vote, and none shall smoke, or drink, 
or eat meat, " boys." I declare it almost makes me 
cry to hear them, so touching is their faith in the 
midst of a jeering world. 

Herbert. I suspect that no one can be a genu- 
ine reformer and not be ridiculous. I mean those 
who give themselves up to the unction of the 
reform. 

The Mistress. Does n't that depend upon 
whether the reform is large or petty .? 

The Fire-Tender. I should say rather that 
the reforms attracted to them all the ridiculous 
people, who almost always manage to become the 
most conspicuous. I suppose that nobody dare 
write out all that was ludicrous in the great aboli- 
tion movement. But it was not at all comical to 
those most zealous in it ; they never could see — 
more 's the pity, for thereby they lose much — the 
humorous side of their performances, and that is 



1/8 BACKLOG STUDIES 

why the pathos overcomes one's sense of the ab- 
surdity of such people. 

The Young Lady. It is lucky for the world 
that so many are willing to be absurd. 

Herbert. Well, I think that, in the main, the 
reformers manage to look out for themselves toler- 
ably well. I knew once a lean and faithful agent 
of a great philanthropic scheme, who contrived to 
collect every year for the cause just enough to sup- 
port him at a good hotel comfortably. 

The Mistress. That's identifying one's self 
with the cause. 

Mandeville. You remember the great free- 
soil convention at Buffalo, in 1848, when Van Buren 
was nominated. All the world of hope and discon- 
tent went there, with its projects of reform. There 
seemed to be no doubt, among hundreds that at- 
tended it, that if they could get a resolution passed 
that bread should be buttered on both sides, that 
it would be so buttered. The platform provided 
for every want and every woe. 

The Fire-Tender. I remember. If you could 
get the millennium by political action, we should 
have had it then. 

Mandeville. We went there on the Erie 
Canal, the exciting and fashionable mode of travel 
in those days. I was a boy when we began the 
voyage. The boat was full of conventionists ; all 



BACKLOG STUDIES 179 

the talk was of what must be done there. I got 
the impression that as that boat-load went so would 
go the convention ; and I was not alone in that feel- 
ing. I can never be enough grateful for one little 
scrubby fanatic who was on board, who spent most 
of his time in drafting resolutions and reading 
them privately to the passengers. He was a very 
enthusiastic, nervous, and somewhat dirty little 
man, who wore a woollen muffler about his throat, 
although it was summer ; he had nearly lost his 
voice, and could only speak in a hoarse, disagreeable 
whisper, and he always carried a teacup about, con- 
taining some sticky compound which he stirred 
frequently with a spoon, and took, whenever he 
talked, in order to improve his voice. If he was 
separated from his cup for ten minutes his whisper 
became inaudible. I greatly delighted in him, for I 
never saw any one who had so much enjoyment of 
his own importance. He was fond of telling what 
he would do if the convention rejected such and such 
resolutions. He 'd make it hot for 'em. I did n't 
know but he 'd make them take his mixture. The 
convention had got to take a stand on tobacco, for 
one thing. He 'd heard Giddings took snuff ; he 'd 
see. When we at length reached Buffalo he took 
his teacup and carpet-bag of resolutions and went 
ashore in a great hurry. I saw him once again 
in a cheap restaurant, whispering a resolution to 



i8o BACKLOG STUDIES 

another delegate, but he did n't appear in the con- 
vention. I have often wondered what became of 
him. 

Our Next Door. Probably he 's consul some- 
where. They mostly are. 

The Fire-Tender. After all, it's the easiest 
thing in the world to sit and sneer at eccentricities. 
But what a dead and uninteresting world it would 
be if we were all proper, and kept within the lines ! 
Affairs would soon be reduced to mere machinery. 
There are moments, even days, when all interests 
and movements appear to be settled upon some 
universal plan of equilibrium ; but just then some 
restless and absurd person is inspired to throw the 
machine out of gear. These individual eccentri- 
cities seem to be the special providences in the 
general human scheme. 

Herbert. They make it very hard work for 
the rest of us, who are disposed to go along peace- 
ably and smoothly. 

Mandeville. And stagnate. I 'm not sure but 
the natural condition of this planet is war, and that 
when it is finally towed to its anchorage — if the 
universe has any harbor for worlds out of commis- 
sion — it will look like the Fighting T^m^raire in 
Turner's picture. 

Herbert. There is another thing I should like 
to understand : the tendency of people who take up 



BACKLOG STUDIES i8i 

one reform, perhaps a personal regeneration in re- 
gard to some bad habit, to run into a dozen other 
isms, and get all at sea in several vague and perni- 
cious theories and practices. 

Mandeville. Herbert seems to think there is 
safety in a man's being anchored, even if it is to a 
bad habit. 

Herbert. Thank you. But what is it in human 
nature that is apt to carry a man who may take a 
step in personal reform into so many extremes ^ 

Our Next Door. Probably it 's human nature. 

Herbert. Why, for instance, should a reformed 
drunkard (one of the noblest examples of victory 
over self) incline, as I have known the reformed to 
do, to spiritism, or a woman suffragist to "pant- 
archism" (whatever that is), and want to pull up 
all the roots of society, and expect them to grow 
in the air, like orchids ; or a Graham-bread disciple 
become enamored of Communism ? 

Mandeville. I know an excellent Conservative 
who would, I think, suit you ; he says that he does 
not see how a man who indulges in the theory and 
practice of total abstinence can be a consistent 
believer in the Christian religion. 

Herbert. Well, I can understand what he 
means : that a person is bound to hold himself in 
conditions of moderation and control, using and not 
abusing the things of this world, practicing temper- 



1 82 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ance, not retiring into a convent of artificial re- 
strictions in order to escape the full responsibility 
of self-control. And yet his theory would certainly 
wreck most men and women. What does the Par- 
son say ? 

The Parson. That the world is going crazy on 
the notion of individual ability. Whenever a man 
attempts to reform himself, or anybody else, with- 
out the aid of the Christian religion, he is sure to 
go adrift, and is pretty certain to be blown about 
by absurd theories, and shipwrecked on some per- 
nicious ism. 

The Fire-Tender. I think the discussion has 
touched bottom. 

Ill 

I never felt so much the value of a house with a 
backlog in it as during the late spring ; for its late- 
ness was its main feature. Everybody was grum- 
bling about it, as if it were something ordered from 
the tailor, and not ready on the day. Day after 
day it snowed, night after night it blew a gale from 
the northwest ; the frost sunk deeper and deeper 
into the ground ; there was a popular longing for 
spring that was almost a prayer ; the weather bu- 
reau was active; Easter was set a week earlier 
than the year before, but nothing seemed to do any 
good. The robins sat under the evergreens, and 



BACKLOG STUDIES 183 

piped in a disconsolate mood, and at last the blue- 
jays came and scolded in the midst of the snow- 
storm, as they always do scold in any weather. 
The crocuses could n't be coaxed to come up, even 
with a pickaxe. I 'm almost ashamed now to recall 
what we said of the weather, only I think that 
people are no more accountable for what they say 
of the weather than for their remarks when their 
corns are stepped on. 

We agreed, however, that, but for disappointed 
expectations and the prospect of late lettuce and 
peas, we were gaining by the fire as much as we 
were losing by the frost. And the Mistress fell to 
chanting the comforts of modern civilization. 

The Fire-Tender said he should like to know, 
by the way, if our civilization differed essentially 
from any other in anything but its comforts. 

Herbert. We are no nearer religious unity. 

The Parson. We have as much war as ever. 

Mandeville. There never was such a social 
turmoil. 

The Young Lady. The artistic part of our 
nature does not appear to have grown. 

The Fire-Tender. We are quarreling as to 
whether we are in fact radically different from the 
brutes. 

Herbert. Scarcely two people think alike about 
the proper kind of human government. 



i84 BACKLOG STUDIES 

The Parson. Our poetry is made out of words, 
for the most part, and not drawn from the living 
sources. 

Our Next Door. And Mr. Gumming is un- 
corking his seventh phial. I never felt before what 
barbarians we are. 

The Mistress. Yet you won't deny that the 
life of the average man is safer and every way more 
comfortable than it was even a century ago. 

The Fire-Tender. But what I want to know 
is, whether what we call our civilization has done 
anything more for mankind at large than to in- 
crease the ease and pleasure of living. Science 
has multiplied wealth and facilitated intercourse, 
and the result is refinement of manners and a dif- 
fusion of education and information. Are men and 
women essentially changed, however } I suppose 
the Parson would say we have lost faith, for one 
thing. 

Mandeville. And superstition — and gained 
toleration. 

Herbert. The question is, whether toleration 
is anything but indifference. 

The Parson. Everything is tolerated now but 
Ghristian orthodoxy. 

The Fire-Tender. It 's easy enough to make 
a brilliant catalogue of external achievements, but 
I take it that real progress ought to be in man 



BACKLOG STUDIES 185 

himself. It is not a question of what a man enjoys, 
but what he can produce. The best sculpture was 
executed two thousand years ago. The best paint- 
ings are several centuries old. We study the finest 
architecture in its ruins. The standards of poetry 
are Shakespeare, Homer, Isaiah, and David. The 
latest of the arts, music, culminated in composition 
though not in execution, a century ago. 

The Mistress. Yet culture in music certainly 
distinguishes the civilization of this age. It has 
taken eighteen hundred years for the principles of 
the Christian religion to begin to be practically in- 
corporated in government and in ordinary business, 
and it will take a long time for Beethoven to be 
popularly recognized ; but there is growth toward 
him, and not away from him, and when the average 
culture has reached his height, some other genius 
will still more profoundly and delicately express 
the highest thoughts. 

Herbert. I wish I could believe it. The spirit 
of this age is expressed by the Calliope. 

The Parson. Yes, it remained for us to add 
church-bells and cannon to the orchestra. 

Our Next Door. It 's a melancholy thought 
to me that we can no longer express ourselves with 
the bass-drum ; there used to be the whole of the 
Fourth of July in its patriotic throbs. 

Mandeville. We certainly have made great 
progress in one art, — that of war. 



i86 BACKLOG STUDIES 

The Young Lady. And in the humane allevia- 
tions of the miseries of war. 

The Fire - Tender. The most discouraging 
symptom to me in our undoubted advance in the 
comforts and refinements of society is the facility 
with which men slip back into barbarism, if the 
artificial and external accidents of their lives are 
changed. We have always kept a fringe of barba- 
rism on our shifting western frontier ; and I think 
there never was a worse society than that in Cali- 
fornia and Nevada in their early days. 

The Young Lady. That is because women 
were absent. 

The Fire-Tender. But women are not absent 
in London and New York, and they are conspicu- 
ous in the most exceptionable demonstrations of 
social anarchy. Certainly they were not wanting 
in Paris. Yes, there was a city widely accepted 
as the summit of our material civilization. No 
city was so beautiful, so luxurious, so safe, so well 
ordered for the comfort of living ; and yet it needed 
only a month or two to make it a kind of Pande- 
monium of savagery. Its citizens were barbarians 
who destroyed its own monuments of civilization. 
I don't mean to say that there was no apology for 
what was done there in the deceit and fraud that 
preceded it, but I simply notice how ready the 
tiger was to appear, and how little restraint all the 
material civilization was to the beast. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 187 

The Mistress. I can't deny your instances, 
and yet I somehow feel that pretty much all you 
have been saying is in effect untrue. Not one of 
you would be willing to change our civilization for 
any other. In your estimate you take no account, 
it seems to me, of the growth of charity. 

Mandeville. And you might add a recognition 
of the value of human life. 

The Mistress. I don't believe there was ever 
before diffused everywhere such an element of 
good will, and never before were women so much 
engaged in philanthropic work. 

The Parson. It must be confessed that one of 
the best signs of the times is woman's charity for 
woman. That certainly never existed to the same 
extent in any other civilization. 

Mandeville. And there is another thing that 
distinguishes us, or is beginning to. That is, the 
notion that you can do something more with a 
criminal than punish him ; and that society has not 
done its duty when it has built a sufficient number 
of schools for one class, or of decent jails for an- 
other. 

Herbert. It will be a long time before we get 
decent jails. 

Mandeville. But when we do they will begin 
to be places of education and training as much as 
of punishment and disgrace. The public will pro- 



i88 BACKLOG STUDIES 

vide teachers in the prisons as it now does in 
the common schools. 

The Fire-Tender. The imperfections of our 
methods and means of selecting those in the 
community who ought to be in prison are so great 
that extra care in dealing with them becomes us. 
We are beginning to learn that we cannot draw 
arbitrary lines with infallible justice. Perhaps half 
those who are convicted of crimes are as capable of 
reformation as half those transgressors who are not 
convicted, or who keep inside the statutory law. 

Herbert. Would you remove the odium of 
prison > 

The Fire-Tender. No — but I would have 
criminals believe, and society believe, that in going 
to prison a man or woman does not pass an abso- 
lute line and go into a fixed state. 

The Parson. That is, you would not have judg- 
ment and retribution begin in this world. 

Our Next Door. Don't switch us off into the- 
ology. I hate to go up in a balloon, or see any one 
else go. 

Herbert. Don't you think there is too much 
leniency toward crime and criminals taking the 
place of justice, in these days ? 

The Fire-Tender. There may be too much 
disposition to condone the crimes of those who 
have been considered respectable. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 189 

Our Next Door. That is, scarcely anybody 
wants to see his friend hung. 

Mandeville. I think a large part of the bitter- 
ness of the condemned arises from a sense of the 
inequality with which justice is administered. I am 
surprised, in visiting jails, to find so few respect- 
able looking convicts. 

Our Next Door. Nobody will go to jail now- 
adays who thinks anything of himself. 

The Fire -Tender. When society seriously 
takes hold of the reformation of criminals (say with 
as much determination as it does to carry an elec- 
tion) this false leniency will disappear ; for it partly 
springs from a feeling that punishment is unequal, 
and does not discriminate enough in individuals, 
and that society itself has no right to turn a man 
over to the Devil, simply because he shows a strong 
leaning that way. A part of the scheme of those 
who work for the reformation of criminals is to 
render punishment more certain, and to let its ex- 
tent depend upon reformation. There is no reason 
why a professional criminal, who won't change his 
trade for an honest one, should have intervals of 
freedom in his prison life in which he is let loose 
to prey upon society. Criminals ought to be dis- 
charged, like insane patients, when they are cured. 

Our Next Door. It 's a wonder to me, what 
with our multitudes of statutes and hosts of detec- 



190 BACKLOG STUDIES 

tives, that we are any of us out of jail. I never 
come away from a visit to a state-prison without a 
new spasm of fear and virtue. The facilities for 
getting into jail seem to be ample. We want more 
organizations for keeping people out. 

Mandeville. That is the sort of enterprise the 
women are engaged in, the frustration of the crimi- 
nal tendencies of those born in vice. I believe 
women have it in their power to regenerate the 
world morally. 

The Parson. It *s time they began to undo the 
mischief of their mother. 

The Mistress. The reason they have not made 
more progress is that they have usually confined 
their individual efforts to one man ; they are now 
organizing for a general campaign. 

The Fire-Tender. I'm not sure but here is 
where the ameliorations of the conditions of life, 
which are called the comforts of this civilization, 
come in, after all, and distinguish the age above all 
others. They have enabled the finer powers of 
women to have play as they could not in a ruder 
age. I should like to live a hundred years and see 
what they will do. 

Herbert. Not much but change the fashions, 
unless they submit themselves to the same training 
and discipline that men do. 

I have no doubt that Herbert had to apologize 



BACKLOG STUDIES 191 

for this remark afterwards in private, as men are 
quite willing to do in particular cases ; it is only in 
general they are unjust. The talk drifted off into 
general and particular depreciation of other times. 
Mandeville described a picture, in which he ap- 
peared to have confidence, of a fight between an 
Iguanodon and a Megalosaurus, where these huge 
iron-clad brutes were represented chewing up differ- 
ent portions of each other's bodies in a forest of 
the lower cretaceous period. So far as he could 
learn, that sort of thing went on unchecked for 
hundreds of thousands of years, and was typical of 
the intercourse of the races of man till a compara- 
tively recent period. There was also that gigantic 
swan, the Plesiosaurus ; in fact, all the early brutes 
were disgusting. He delighted to think that even 
the lower animals had improved, both in appearance 
and disposition. 

The conversation ended, therefore, in a very ami- 
cable manner, having been taken to a ground that 
nobody knew anything about. 



NINTH STUDY 




CAN you have a backlog in July ? That de- 
pends upon circumstances. 
In northern New England it is con- 
sidered a sign of summer when the housewives fill 
the fireplaces with branches of mountain laurel, and, 
later, with the feathery stalks of the asparagus. 
This is often, too, the timid expression of a tender 
feeling, under Puritanic repression, which has not 
sufficient vent in the sweet-william and hollyhock at 
the front door. This is a yearning after beauty 
and ornamentation which has no other means of 
gratifying itself. 

In the most rigid circumstances, the graceful 



196 BACKLOG STUDIES 

nature of woman thus discloses itself in these mute 
expressions of an undeveloped taste. You may 
never doubt what the common flowers growing 
along the pathway to the front door mean to the 
maiden of many summers who tends them, — love 
and religion, and the weariness of an uneventful 
life. The sacredness of the Sabbath, the hidden 
memory of an unrevealed and unrequited affection, 
the slow years of gathering and wasting sweetness, 
are in the smell of the pink and the sweet clover. 
These sentimental plants breathe something of the 
longing of the maiden who sits in the Sunday 
evenings of summer on the lonesome front door- 
stone, singing the hymns of the saints, and peren- 
nial as the myrtle that grows thereby. 

Yet not always in summer, even with the aid of 
unrequited love and devotional feeling, is it safe to 
let the fire go out on the hearth, in our latitude. I 
remember when the last almost total eclipse of the 
sun happened in August, what a bone-piercing chill 
came over the world. Perhaps the imagination 
had something to do with causing the chill from 
that temporary hiding of the sun to feel so much 
more penetrating than that from the coming on of 
night, which shortly followed. It was impossible 
not to experience a shudder as of the approach of 
the Judgment Day, when the shadows were flung 
upon the green lawn, and we all stood in the wan 



BACKLOG STUDIES 197 

light, looking unfamiliar to each other. The birds 
in the trees felt the spell. We could in fancy see 
those spectral camp-fires which men would build on 
the earth, if the sun should slow its fires down to 
about the brilliancy of the moon. It was a great 
relief to all of us to go into the house, and, before 
a blazing wood fire, talk of the end of the world. 

In New England it is scarcely ever safe to let 
the fire go out ; it is best to bank it, for it needs 
but the turn of a weather vane at any hour to 
sweep the Atlantic rains over us, or to bring down 
the chill of Hudson's Bay. There are days when 
the steamship on the Atlantic glides calmly along 
under a full canvas, but its central fires must always 
be ready to make steam against head-winds and 
antagonistic waves. Even in our most smiling 
summer days one needs to have the materials of a 
cheerful fire at hand. It is only by this readiness 
for a change that one can preserve an equal mind. 
We are made provident and sagacious by the fickle- 
ness of our climate. We should be another sort of 
people if we could have that serene, unclouded 
trust in nature which the Eygptian has. The grav- 
ity and repose of the Eastern peoples is due to the 
unchanging aspect of the sky, and the deliberation 
and regularity of the climatic processes. Our liter- 
ature, politics, religion, show the effect of unsettled 
weather. But they compare favorably with the 
Egyptian, for all that. 



198 BACKLOG STUDIES 

II 

You cannot know, the Young Lady wrote, with 
what longing I look back to those winter days by 
the fire ; though all the windows are open to this 
May morning, and the brown thrush is singing in 
the chestnut-tree, and I see ever)rwhere that first 
delicate flush of spring, which seems too evanes- 
cent to be color even, and amounts to little more 
than a suffusion of the atmosphere. I doubt, in- 
deed, if the spring is exactly what it used to be, or 
if, as we get on in years (no one ever speaks of 
" getting on in years " till she is virtually settled 
in life), its promises and suggestions do not seem 
empty in comparison with the sympathies and re- 
sponses of human friendship, and the stimulation of 
society. Sometimes nothing is so tiresome as a 
perfect day in a perfect season. 

I only imperfectly understand this. The Parson 
says that woman is always most restless under the 
most favorable conditions, and that there is no state 
in which she is really happy except that of change. 
I suppose this is the truth taught in what has been 
called the "Myth of the Garden.*' Woman is per- 
petual revolution, and is that element in the world 
which continually destroys and re-creates. She is 
the experimenter and the suggester of new combi- 
nations. She has no belief in any law of eternal 



BACKLOG STUDIES 199 

fitness of things. She is never even content with 
any arrangement of her own house. The only 
reason the Mistress could give, when she rear- 
ranged her apartment, for hanging a picture in what 
seemed the most inappropriate place, was that it 
had never been there before. Woman has no re- 
spect for tradition, and because a thing is as it is 
is sufficient reason for changing it. When she gets 
into law, as she has come into literature, we shall 
gain something in the destruction of all our vast 
and musty libraries of precedents, which now fetter 
our administration of individual justice. It is Man- 
deville's opinion that women are not so sentimental 
as men, and are not so easily touched with the un- 
spoken poetry of nature ; being less poetical, and 
having less imagination, they are more fitted for 
practical affairs, and would make less failures in 
business. I have noticed the almost selfish passion 
for their flowers which old gardeners have, and 
their reluctance to part with a leaf or a blossom 
from their family. They love the flowers for them- 
selves. A woman raises flowers for their use. She 
is destruction in a conservatory. She wants the 
flowers for her lover, for the sick, for the poor, for 
the Lord on Easter day, for the ornamentation of 
her house. She delights in the costly pleasure of 
sacrificing them. She never sees a flower but she 
has an intense but probably sinless desire to pick it. 



200 BACKLOG STUDIES 

It has been so from the first, though from the 
first she has been thwarted by the accidental su- 
perior strength of man. Whatever she has ob- 
tained has been by craft, and by the same coaxing 
which the sun uses to draw the blossoms out of 
the apple-trees. I am not surprised to learn that 
she has become tired of indulgences, and wants 
some of the original rights. We are just beginning 
to find out the extent to which she has been denied 
and subjected, and especially her condition among 
the primitive and barbarous races. I have never 
seen it in a platform of grievances, but it is true 
that among the Fijians she is not, unless a better 
civilization has wrought a change in her behalf, per- 
mitted to eat people, even her own sex, at the feasts 
of the men ; the dainty enjoyed by the men being 
considered too good to be wasted on women. Is 
anything wanting to this picture of the degradation 
of woman } By a refinement of cruelty she receives 
no benefit whatever from the missionaries who are 
sent out by — what to her must seem a new name 
for Tan-talus — the American Board. 

I suppose the Young Lady expressed a nearly 
universal feeling in her regret at the breaking up of 
the winter fireside company. Society needs a cer- 
tain seclusion and the sense of security. Spring 
opens the doors and the windows, and the noise and 
unrest of the world are let in. Even a winter thaw 



BACKLOG STUDIES 201 

begets a desire to travel, and summer brings long- 
ings innumerable, and disturbs the most tranquil 
souls. Nature is, in fact, a suggester of uneasiness, 
a promoter of pilgrimages and of excursions of the 
fancy which never come to any satisfactory haven. 
The summer in these latitudes is a campaign of 
sentiment and a season, for the most part, of rest- 
lessness and discontent. We grow now in hot- 
houses roses which, in form and color, are mag- 
nificent, and appear to be full of passion ; yet one 
simple June rose of the open air has for the Young 
Lady, I doubt not, more sentiment and suggestion 
of love than a conservatory full of them in January. 
And this suggestion, leavened as it is with the 
inconstancy of nature, stimulated by the promises 
which are so often like the peach-bloom of the 
Judas-tree, unsatisfying by reason of its vague pos- 
sibilities, differs so essentially from the more limited 
and attainable and home-like emotion born of quiet 
intercourse by the winter fireside, that I do not won- 
der the Young Lady feels as if some spell had been 
broken by the transition of her life from indoors 
to outdoors. Her secret, if secret she has, which 
I do not at all know, is shared by the birds and the 
new leaves and the blossoms on the fruit trees. If 
we lived elsewhere, in that zone where the poets 
pretend always to dwell, we might be content, per- 
haps I should say drugged, by the sweet influences 



202 BACKLOG STUDIES 

of an unchanging summer, — but not living else- 
where, we can understand why the Young Lady 
probably now looks forward to the hearthstone as 
the most assured centre of enduring attachment. 

If it should ever become the sad duty of this bio- 
grapher to write of disappointed love, I am sure he 
would not have any sensational story to tell of the 
Young Lady. She is one of those women v/hose 
unostentatious lives are the chief blessing of hu- 
manity ; who, with a sigh heard only by herself and 
no change in her sunny face, would put behind her 
all the memories of winter evenings and the pro- 
mises of May mornings, and give her life to some 
ministration of human kindness with an assiduity 
that would make her occupation appear like an elec- 
tion and a first choice. The disappointed man 
scowls, and hates his race, and threatens self-de- 
struction, choosing oftener the flowing bowl than 
the dagger, and becoming a reeling nuisance in the 
world. It would be much more manly in him to 
become the secretary of a Dorcas society. 

I suppose it is true that women work for others 
with less expectation of reward than men, and give 
themselves to labors of self-sacrifice with much less 
thought of self. At least, this is true unless woman 
goes into some public performance, where notoriety 
has its attractions, and mounts some cause, to ride 
it man-fashion, when I think she becomes just as 



BACKLOG STUDIES 203 

eager for applause and just as willing that self- 
sacrifice should result in self -elevation as man. For 
hen usually, are not those unbought "presenta- 
tions " which are forced upon firemen, philanthro- 
pists, legislators, railroad-men, and the superintend- 
ents of the moral instruction of the young. These 
are almost always pleasing and unexpected tributes 
to worth and modesty, and must be received with 
satisfaction when the public service rendered has 
not been with a view to procuring them. We should 
say that one ought to be most liable to receive a 
"testimonial" who, being a superintendent of any 
sort, did not superintend with a view to getting it. 
But " testimonials " have become so common that 
a modest man ought really to be afraid to do his 
simple duty, for fear his motives will be miscon- 
strued. Yet there are instances of very worthy 
men who have had things publicly presented to 
them. It is the blessed age of gifts and the reward 
of private virtue. And the presentations have be- 
come so frequent that we wish there were a little 
more variety in them. There never was much sense 
in giving a gallant fellow a big speaking-trumpet to 
carry home to aid him in his intercourse with his 
family ; and the festive ice-pitcher has become a too 
universal sign of absolute devotion to the public in- 
terest. The lack of one will soon be proof that a 
man is a knave. The legislative cane with the gold 



204 BACKLOG STUDIES 

head, also, is getting to be recognized as the sign of 
the immaculate public servant, as the inscription on 
it testifies, and the steps of suspicion must erelong 
dog him who does not carry one. The " testimo- 
nial" business is, in truth, a little demoralizing, 
almost as much so as the "donation;" and the 
demoralization has extended even to our language, 
so that a perfectly respectable man is often obliged 
to see himself " made the recipient of " this and 
that. It would be much better, if testimonials 
must be, to give a man a barrel of flour or a keg of 
oysters, and let him eat himself at once back into 
the ranks of ordinary men. 

Ill 

We may have a testimonial class in time, a sort 
of nobility here in America, made so by popular 
gift, the members of which will all be able to show 
some stick, or piece of plated ware, or massive 
chain, "of which they have been the recipients." 
In time it may be a distinction not to belong to it, 
and it may come to be thought more blessed to give 
than to receive. For it must have been remarked 
that it is not always to the cleverest and the most 
amiable and modest man that the deputation comes 
with the inevitable ice -pitcher (and "salver to 
match"), which has in it the magic and subtle 
quality of making the hour in which it is received 



BACKLOG STUDIES 205 

the proudest of one's life. There has not been dis- 
covered any method of rewarding all the deserving 
people and bringing their virtues into the promi- 
nence of notoriety. And, indeed, it would be an 
unreasonable world if there had, for its chief charm 
and sweetness lie in the excellences in it which are 
reluctantly disclosed ; one of the chief pleasures of 
living is in the daily discovery of good traits, nobil- 
ities, and kindliness both in those we have long 
known and in the chance passenger whose way hap- 
pens for a day to lie with ours. The longer I live 
the more I am impressed with the excess of human 
kindness over human hatred, and the greater will- 
ingness to oblige than to disoblige that one meets 
at every turn. The selfishness in politics, the jeal- 
ousy in letters, the bickering in art, the bitterness 
in theology, are all as nothing compared to the 
sweet charities, sacrifices, and deferences of private 
life. The people are few whom to know intimately 
is to dislike. Of course you want to hate some- 
body, if you can, just to keep your powers of dis- 
crimination bright, and to save yourself from be- 
coming a mere mush of good-nature ; but perhaps 
it is well to hate some historical person who has 
been dead so long as to be indifferent to it. It is 
more comfortable to hate people we have never 
seen. I cannot but think that Judas Iscariot has 
been of great service to the world as a sort of buffer 



2o6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

for moral indignation which might have made a 
collision nearer home but for his utilized treach- 
ery. I used to know a venerable and most amiable 
gentleman and scholar, whose hospitable house was 
always overrun with wayside ministers, agents, and 
philanthropists, who loved their fellow-men better 
than they loved to work for their living ; and he, I 
suspect, kept his moral balance even by indulgence 
in violent but most distant dislikes. When I met 
him casually in the street, his first salutation was 
likely to be such as this : " What a liar that Alison 
was ! Don't you hate him } " And then would 
follow specifications of historical inveracity enough 
to make one's blood run cold. When he was thus 
discharged of his hatred by such a conductor, I 
presume he had not a spark left for those whose 
mission was partly to live upon him and other gen- 
erous souls. 

Mandeville and I were talking of the unknown 
people, one rainy night by the fire, while the Mis- 
tress was fitfully and inter] ectionally playing with 
the piano-keys in an improvising mood. Mande- 
ville has a good deal of sentiment about him, and 
without any effort talks so beautifully sometimes 
that I constantly regret I cannot report his lan- 
guage. He has, besides, that sympathy of presence 
— I believe it is called magnetism by those who 
regard the brain as only a sort of galvanic battery 



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BACKLOG STUDIES 207 

— which makes it a greater pleasure to see him 
think, if I may say so, than to hear some people 
talk. 

It makes one homesick in this world to think 
that there are so many rare people he can never 
know ; and so many excellent people that scarcely 
any one will know, in fact. One discovers a friend 
by chance, and cannot but feel regret that twenty 
or thirty years of life, may be, have been spent with- 
out the least knowledge of him. When he is once 
known, through him opening is made into another 
little world, into a circle of culture and loving 
hearts and enthusiasm in a dozen congenial pur- 
suits, and prejudices perhaps. How instantly and 
easily the bachelor doubles his world when he 
marries, and enters into the unknown fellowship of 
the to him continually increasing company which 
is known in popular language as "all his wife's 
relations." 

Near at hand daily, no doubt, are those worth 
knowing intimately, if one had the time and the 
opportunity. And when one travels he sees what 
a vast material there is for society and friendship, 
of which he can never avail himself. Car-load after 
car-load of summer travel goes by one at any rail- 
way-station, out of which he is sure he could choose 
a score of life-long friends, if the conductor would 
introduce him. There are faces of refinement, of 



208 BACKLOG STUDIES 

quick wit, of sympathetic kindness, — interesting 
people, traveled people, entertaining people, — as 
you would say in Boston, " nice people you would 
admire to know," whom you constantly meet and 
pass without a sign of recognition, many of whom 
are no doubt your long-lost brothers and sisters. 
You can see that they also have their worlds and 
their interests, and they probably know a great 
many "nice" people. The matter of personal 
liking and attachment is a good deal due to the 
mere fortune of association. More fast friend- 
ships and pleasant acquaintances are formed on 
the Atlantic steamships, between those who would 
have been only indifferent acquaintances elsewhere, 
than one would think possible on a voyage which 
naturally makes one as selfish as he is indifferent 
to his personal appearance. The Atlantic is the 
only power on earth I know that can make a woman 
indifferent to her personal appearance. 

Mandeville remembers, and I think without detri- 
ment to himself, the glimpses he had in the White 
Mountains once of a young lady of whom his 
utmost efforts could only give him no further in- 
formation than her name. Chance sight of her on 
a passing stage or amid a group on some mountain 
lookout was all he ever had, and he did not even 
know certainly whether she was the perfect beauty 
and the lovely character he thought her. He said 



BACKLOG STUDIES 209 

he would have known her, however, at a great dis- 
tance ; there was in her form that ravishing min- 
ghng of grace and command of which we hear so 
much, and which turns out to be nearly all com- 
mand after the " ceremony ; " or perhaps it was 
something in the glance of her eye or the turn of 
her head, or very likely it was a sweet inherited 
reserve or hauteur, that captivated him, that filled 
his days with the expectation of seeing her, and 
made him hasten to the hotel registers in the hope 
that her name was there recorded. Whatever it 
was, she interested him as one of the people he 
would like to know ; and it piqued him that there 
was a life, rich in friendships, no doubt, in tastes, in 
many noblenesses, — one of thousands of such, — 
that must be absolutely nothing to him, — nothing 
but a window into heaven momentarily opened and 
then closed. I have myself no idea that she was a 
countess incognita, or that she had descended from 
any greater heights than those where Mandeville 
saw her, but I have always regretted that she went 
her way so mysteriously and left no clue, and that 
we shall wear out the remainder of our days with- 
out her society. I have looked for her name, but 
always in vain, among the attendants at the rights* 
conventions, in the list of those good Americans 
presented at court, among those skeleton names 
that appear as the remains of beauty in the morn- 



210 BACKLOG STUDIES 

ing journals after a ball to a wandering prince, in 
the reports of railway collisions and steamboat ex- 
plosions. No news comes of her. And so imper- 
fect are our means of communication in this world 
that, for anything we know, she may have left it 
long ago by some private way. 

IV 

The lasting regret that we cannot know more of 
the bright, sincere, and genuine people of the world 
is increased by the fact that they are all different 
from each other. Was it not Madame de S6vign6 
who said she had loved several different women for 
several different qualities ? Every real person — 
for there are persons, as there are fruits, that have 
no distinguishing flavor, mere gooseberries — has a 
distinct quality, and the finding it is always like 
the discovery of a new island to the voyager. The 
physical world we shall exhaust some day, having 
a written description of every foot of it to which 
we can turn ; but we shall never get the different 
qualities of people into a biographical dictionary, 
and the making acquaintance with a human being 
will never cease to be an exciting experiment. We 
cannot even classify men so as to aid us much in 
our estimate of them. The efforts in this direction 
are ingenious, but unsatisfactory. If I hear that a 
man is lymphatic or nervous-sanguine, I cannot tell 



BACKLOG STUDIES 211 

therefrom whether I shall like and trust him. He 
may produce a phrenological chart showing that his 
knobby head is the home of all the virtues, and that 
the vicious tendencies are represented by holes in 
his cranium, and yet I cannot be sure that he will 
not be as disagreeable as if phrenology had not 
been invented. I feel sometimes that phrenology 
is the refuge of mediocrity. Its charts are almost 
as misleading concerning character as photographs. 
And photography may be described as the art 
which enables commonplace mediocrity to look like 
genius. The heavy-jowled man with shallow cere- 
brum has only to incline his head so that the lying 
instrument can select a favorable focus, to appear 
in the picture with the brow of a sage and the chin 
of a poet. Of all the arts for ministering to human 
vanity the photographic is the most useful, but it is 
a poor aid in the revelation of character. You shall 
learn more of a man's real nature by seeing him 
walk once up the broad aisle of his church to his 
pew on Sunday than by studying his photograph 
for a month. 

No, we do not get any certain standard of men by 
a chart of their temperaments ; it will hardly answer 
to select a wife by the color of her hair ; though it 
be by nature as red as a cardinal's hat, she may be 
no more constant than if it were dyed. The farmer 
who shuns all the lymphatic beauties in his neigh- 



212 BACKLOG STUDIES 

borhood, and selects to wife the most nervous-san- 
guine, may find that she is unwilling to get up in 
the winter mornings and make the kitchen fire. 
Many a man, even in this scientific age which pro- 
fesses to label us all, has been cruelly deceived in 
this way. Neither the blondes nor the brunettes act 
according to the advertisement of their tempera- 
ments. The truth is that men refuse to come 
under the classifications of the pseudo - scientists, 
and all our new nomenclatures do not add much to 
our knowledge. You know what to expect — if the 
comparison will be pardoned — of a horse with cer- 
tain points ; but you would n't dare go on a journey 
with a man merely upon the strength of knowing 
that his temperament was the proper mixture of 
the sanguine and the phlegmatic. Science is not 
able to teach us concerning men as it teaches us of 
horses, though I am very far from saying that there 
are not traits of nobleness and of meanness that run 
through families and can be calculated to appear in 
individuals with absolute certainty ; one family will 
be trusty and another tricky through all its mem- 
bers for generations — noble strains and ignoble 
strains are perpetuated. When we hear that she 
has eloped with the stable-boy and married him, we 
are apt to remark, "Well, she was a Bogardus." 
And when we read that she has gone on a mission 
and has died, distinguishing herself by some ex- 



BACKLOG STUDIES 213 

traordinary devotion to the heathen at Ujiji, we 
think it sufficient to say, " Yes, her mother married 
into the Smiths." But this knowledge comes of 
our experience of special families, and stands us in 
stead no further. 

If we cannot classify men scientifically and re- 
duce them under a kind of botanical order, as if 
they had a calculable vegetable development, neither 
can we gain much knowledge of them by compari- 
son. It does not help me at all in my estimate of 
their characters to compare Mandeville with the 
Young Lady, or Our Next Door with the Parson. 
The wise man does not permit himself to set up, 
even in his own mind, any comparison of his friends. 
His friendship is capable of going to extremes with 
many people, evoked as it is by many qualities. 
When Mandeville goes into my garden in June I 
can usually find him in a particular bed of straw- 
berries, but he does not speak disrespectfully of 
the others. When Nature, says Mandeville, con- 
sents to put herself into any sort of strawberry, I 
have no criticisms to make, — I am only glad that 
I have been created into the same world with such 
a delicious manifestation of the Divine favor. If I 
left Mandeville alone in the garden long enough, 
I have no doubt he would impartially make an end 
of the fruit of all the beds, for his capacity in this 
direction is as all-embracing as it is in the matter 



214 BACKLOG STUDIES 

of friendships. The Young Lady has also her 
favorite patch of berries. And the Parson, I am 
sorry to say, prefers to have them picked for him — 
the elect of the garden — and served in an ortho- 
dox manner. The strawberry has a sort of poetical 
precedence, and I presume that no fruit is jealous 
of it any more than any flower is jealous of the 
rose ; but I remark the facility with which liking 
for it is transferred to the raspberry, and from the 
raspberry (not to make a tedious enumeration) to 
the melon, and from the melon to the grape, and 
the grape to the pear, and the pear to the apple. 
And we do not mar our enjoyment of each by 
comparisons. 

Of course it would be a dull world if we could 
not criticise our friends, but the most unprofitable 
and unsatisfactory criticism is that by comparison. 
Criticism is not necessarily uncharitableness, but a 
wholesome exercise of our powers of analysis and 
discrimination. It is, however, a very idle exercise, 
leading to no results when we set the qualities of 
one over against the qualities of another, and dis- 
parage by contrast, and not by independent judg- 
ment. And this method of procedure creates jeal- 
ousies and heart-burnings innumerable. 

Criticism by comparison is the refuge of in- 
capables, and especially is this true in literature. 
It is a lazy way of disposing of a young poet to 



BACKLOG STUDIES 215 

bluntly declare, without any sort of discrimination 
of his defects or his excellences, that he equals 
Tennyson, and that Scott never wrote anything 
finer. What is the justice of damning a meritori- 
ous novelist by comparing him with Dickens, and 
smothering him with thoughtless and good-natured 
eulogy? The poet and the novelist may be well 
enough, and probably have qualities and gifts of 
their own which are worth the critic's attention, if 
he has any time to bestow on them ; and it is cer- 
tainly unjust to subject them to a comparison with 
somebody else, merely because the critic will not 
take the trouble to ascertain what they are. If, 
indeed, the poet and novelist are mere imitators 
of a model and copyists of a style, they may be 
dismissed with such commendation as we bestow 
upon the machines who pass their lives in mak- 
ing bad copies of the pictures of the great painters. 
But the critics of whom we speak do not intend 
depreciation, but eulogy, when they say that the 
author they have in hand has the wit of Sydney 
Smith and the brilliancy of Macaulay. Probably he 
is not like either of them, and may have a genuine 
though modest virtue of his own ; but these names 
will certainly kill him, and he will never be any- 
body in the popular estimation. The public finds 
out speedily that he is not Sydney Smith, and it 
resents the extravagant claim for him as if he were 



2i6 BACKLOG STUDIES 

an impudent pretender. How many authors of fair 
ability to interest the world have we known in our 
own day who have been thus sky-rocketed into 
notoriety by the lazy indiscrimination of the critic- 
by-comparison, and then have sunk into a popular 
contempt as undeserved ! I never see a young 
aspirant injudiciously compared to a great and re- 
splendent name in literature but I feel like saying, 
My poor fellow, your days are few and full of 
trouble ; you begin life handicapped, and you can- 
not possibly run a creditable race. 

I think this sort of critical eulogy is more 
damaging even than that which kills by a different 
assumption, and one which is equally common, 
namely, that the author has not done what he prob- 
ably never intended to do. It is well known that 
most of the trouble in life comes from our inability 
to compel other people to do what we think they 
ought, and it is true in criticism that we are un- 
willing to take a book for what it is, and credit the 
author with that. When the solemn critic, like a 
mastiff with a lady's bonnet in his mouth, gets hold 
of a light piece of verse, or a graceful sketch which 
catches the humor of an hour for the entertainment 
of an hour, he tears it into a thousand shreds. It 
adds nothing to human knowledge, it solves none 
of the problems of life, it touches none of the 
questions of social science, it is not a philosophical 



BACKLOG STUDIES 217 

treatise, and it is not a dozen things it might have 
been. The critic cannot forgive the author for 
this disrespect to him. This is n't a rose, says the 
critic, taking up a pansy and rending it ; it is not 
at all like a rose, and the author is either a preten- 
tious idiot or an idiotic pretender. What business, 
indeed, has the author to send the critic a bunch of 
sweet-peas, when he knows that a cabbage would 
be preferred, — something not showy, but useful ? 

A good deal of this is what Mandeville said, and 
I am not sure that it is devoid of personal feeling. 
He published, some years ago, a little volume giv- 
ing an account of a trip through the Great West, 
and a very entertaining book it was. But one of the 
heavy critics got hold of it, and made Mandeville 
appear, even to himself, he confessed, like an ass, 
because there was nothing in the volume about 
geology or mining prospects, and very little to 
instruct the student of physical geography. With 
alternate sarcasm and ridicule, he literally basted 
the author, till Mandeville said that he felt almost 
like a depraved scoundrel, and thought he should 
be held up to less execration if he had committed 
a neat and scientific murder. 

But I confess that I have a good deal of sym- 
pathy with the critics. Consider what these pub- 
lic tasters have to endure ! None of us, I fancy, 
would like to be compelled to read all that they 



2i8 BACKLOG STUDIES 

read, or to take into our mouths, even with the 
privilege of speedily ejecting it with a grimace, all 
that they sip. The critics of the vintage, who 
pursue their calling in the dark vaults and amid 
mouldy casks, give their opinion, for the most 
part, only upon wine, upon juice that has matured 
and ripened into the development of quality. But 
what crude, unstrained, unfermented, even raw and 
drugged liquor, must the literary taster put to his 
unwilling lips day after day ! 



TENTH STUDY 




TENTH STUDY 



IT was my good fortune once to visit a man who 
remembered the rebellion of 1745. Lest this 
confession should make me seem very aged, 
I will add that the visit took place in 185 1, and that 
the man was then one hundred and thirteen years 
old. He was quite a lad before Dr. Johnson drank 
Mrs. Thrale's tea. That he was as old as he had 
the credit of being I have the evidence of my own 
senses (and I am seldom mistaken in a person's 
age), of his own family, and his own word ; and it 
is incredible that so old a person, and one so appar- 
ently near the grave, would deceive about his age. 
The testimony of the very aged is always to be 



222 BACKLOG STUDIES 

received without question, as Alexander Hamilton 
once learned. He was trying a land- title with 
Aaron Burr, and two of the witnesses upon whom 
Burr relied were venerable Dutchmen, who had, in 
their youth, carried the surveying chains over the 
land in dispute, and who were now aged respec- 
tively one hundred and four years and one hun- 
dred and six years. Hamilton gently attempted to 
undervalue their testimony, but he was instantly 
put down by the Dutch justice, who suggested that 
Mr. Hamilton could not be aware of the age of the 
witnesses. 

My old man (the expression seems familiar and 
inelegant) had indeed an exaggerated idea of his 
own age, and sometimes said that he supposed he 
was going on four hundred, which was true enough, 
in fact ; but for the exact date, he referred to his 
youngest son, — a frisky and humorsome lad of 
eighty years, who had received us at the gate, and 
whom we had at first mistaken for the veteran, his 
father. But when we beheld the old man, we saw 
the difference between age and age. The latter 
had settled into a grizzliness and grimness which 
belong to a very aged and stunted but sturdy oak- 
tree, upon the bark of which the gray moss is thick 
and heavy. The old man appeared hale enough, 
he could walk about, his sight and hearing were not 
seriously impaired, he ate with relish, and his teeth 



BACKLOG STUDIES 223 

were so sound that he would not need a dentist for 
at least another century ; but the moss was grow- 
ing on him. His boy of eighty seemed a green 
sapling beside him. 

He remembered absolutely nothing that had 
taken place within thirty years, but otherwise his 
mind was perhaps as good as it ever was, for he 
must always have been an ignoramus, and would 
never know anything if he lived to be as old as 
he said he was going on to be. Why he was in- 
terested in the rebellion of 1745 I could not dis- 
cover, for he of course did not go over to Scotland 
to carry a pike in it, and he only remembered to 
have heard it talked about as a great event in the 
Irish market-town near which he lived, and to which 
he had ridden when a boy. And he knew much 
more about the horse that drew him, and the cart 
in which he rode, than he did about the rebellion 
of the Pretender. 

I hope I do not appear to speak harshly of this 
amiable old man, and if he is still living I wish him 
well, although his example was bad in some re- 
spects. He had used tobacco for nearly a century, 
and the habit has very likely been the death of him. 
If so, it is to be regretted. For it would have been 
interesting to watch the process of his gradual dis- 
integration and return to the ground ; the loss of 
sense after sense, as decaying limbs fall from the 



224 BACKLOG STUDIES 

oak ; the failure of discrimination, of the power of 
choice, and finally of memory itself ; the peaceful 
wearing out and passing away of body and mind 
without disease, — the natural running down of a 
man. The interesting fact about him at that time 
was that his bodily powers seemed in sufficient 
vigor, but that the mind had not force enough to 
manifest itself through his organs. The complete 
battery was there, the appetite was there, the acid 
was eating the zinc ; but the electric current was 
too weak to flash from the brain. And yet he ap- 
peared so sound throughout that it was difficult to 
say that his mind was not as good as it ever had 
been. He had stored in it very little to feed on, 
and any mind would get enfeebled by a century's 
rumination on a hearsay idea of the rebellion of '45. 
It was possible with this man to fully test one's 
respect for age, which is in all civilized nations a 
duty. And I found that my feelings were mixed 
about him. I discovered in him a conceit in regard 
to his long sojourn on this earth, as if it were some- 
how a credit to him. In the presence of his good 
opinion of himself, I could but question the real 
value of his continued life, to himself or to others. 
If he ever had any friends he had outlived them, 
except his boy ; his wives — a century of them — 
were all dead ; the world had actually passed away 
for him. He hung on the tree like a frost-nipped 



BACKLOG STUDIES 22s 

apple, which the farmer has neglected to gather. 
The world always renews itself, and remains 
young. What relation had he to it ? 

I was delighted to find that this old man had 
never voted for George Washington. I do not 
know that he had ever heard of him. Washington 
may be said to have played his part since his time. 
I am not sure that he perfectly remembered any- 
thing so recent as the American Revolution. He 
was living quietly in Ireland during our French and 
Indian wars, and he did not emigrate to this country 
till long after our revolutionary and our constitu- 
tional struggles were over. The rebellion of '45 
was the great event of the world for him, and of 
that he knew nothing. 

I intend no disrespect to this man, — a cheerful 
and pleasant enough old person, — but he had evi- 
dently lived himself out of the world, as completely 
as people usually die out of it. His only remaining 
value was to the moralist, who might perchance 
make something out of him. I suppose if he had 
died young, he would have been regretted, and his 
friends would have lamented that he did not fill out 
his days in the world, and would very likely have 
called him back, if tears and prayers could have 
done so. They can see now what his prolonged 
life amounted to, and how the world has closed up 
the gap he once filled while he still lives in it. 



226 BACKLOG STUDIES 

A great part of the unhappiness of this world 
consists in regret for those who depart, as it seems 
to us, prematurely. We imagine that if they would 
return, the old conditions would be restored. But 
would it be so ? If they, in any case, came back, 
would there be any place for them > The world so 
quickly readjusts itself after any loss that the re- 
turn of the departed would nearly always throw it, 
even the circle most interested, into confusion. Are 
the Enoch Ardens ever wanted ? 

II 

A popular notion akin to this, that the world 
would have any room for the departed if they 
should now and then return, is the constant regret 
that people will not learn by the experience of 
others, that one generation learns little from the 
preceding, and that youth never will adopt the ex- 
perience of age. But if experience went for any- 
thing, we should all come to a standstill ; for there 
is nothing so discouraging to effort. Disbelief in 
Ecclesiastes is the mainspring of action. In that 
lies the freshness and the interest of life, and it is 
the source of every endeavor. 

If the boy believed that the accumulation of 
wealth and the acquisition of power were what the 
old man says they are, the world would very soon 
be stagnant. If he believed that his chances of 



BACKLOG STUDIES 227 

obtaining either were as poor as the majority of 
men find them to be, ambition would die within 
him. It is because he rejects the experience of 
those who have preceded him that the world is 
kept in the topsy-turvy condition which we all re- 
joice in, and which we call progress. 

And yet I confess I have a soft place in my 
heart for that rare character in our New England 
life who is content with the world as he finds it, 
and who does not attempt to appropriate any more 
of it to himself than he absolutely needs from day 
to day. He knows from the beginning that the 
world could get on without him, and he has never 
had any anxiety to leave any result behind him, any 
legacy for the world to quarrel over. 

He is really an exotic in our New England 
climate and society, and his life is perpetually mis- 
understood by his neighbors, because he shares 
none of their uneasiness about getting on in life. 
He is even called lazy, good-for-nothing, and ** shift- 
less," — the final stigma that we put upon a person 
who has learned to wait without the exhausting 
process of laboring. 

I made his acquaintance last summer in the 
country, and I have not in a long time been so well 
pleased with any of our species. He was a man 
past middle life, with a large family. He had 
always been from boyhood of a contented and 



228 BACKLOG STUDIES 

placid mind, slow in his movements, slow in his 
speech. I think he never cherished a hard feeling 
toward anybody, nor envied any one, least of all the 
rich and prosperous about whom he liked to talk. 
Indeed, his talk was a good deal about wealth, 
especially about his cousin who had been down 
South and " got fore-handed " within a few years. 
He was genuinely pleased at his relation's good 
luck, and pointed him out to me with some pride. 
But he had no envy of him, and he evinced no 
desire to imitate him. I inferred from all his con- 
versation about "piling it up " (of which he spoke 
with a gleam of enthusiasm in his eye) that there 
were moments when he would like to be rich him- 
self ; but it was evident that he would never make 
the least effort to be so, and I doubt if he could 
even overcome that delicious inertia of mind and 
body called laziness sufficiently to inherit. 

Wealth seemed to have a far and peculiar fasci- 
nation for him, and I suspect he was a visionary in 
the midst of his poverty. Yet I suppose he had 
hardly the personal property which the law exempts 
from execution. He had lived in a great many 
towns, moving from one to another with his growing 
family, by easy stages, and was always the poorest 
man in the town, and lived on the most niggardly 
of its rocky and bramble-grown farms, the produc- 
tiveness of which he reduced to zero in a couple of 



BACKLOG STUDIES 229 

seasons by his careful neglect of culture. The 
fences of his hired domain always fell into ruins 
under him, perhaps because he sat on them so 
much, and the hovels he occupied rotted down dur- 
ing his placid residence in them. He moved from 
desolation to desolation, but carried always with 
him the equal mind of a philosopher. Not even 
the occasional tart remarks of his wife, about their 
nomadic life and his serenity in the midst of dis- 
comfort, could ruffle his smooth spirit. 

He was, in every respect, a most worthy man, 
truthful, honest, temperate, and, I need not say, 
frugal ; and he had no bad habits, — perhaps he 
never had energy enough to acquire any. Nor did 
he lack the knack of the Yankee race. He could 
make a shoe, or build a house, or doctor a cow ; 
but it never seemed to him, in this brief existence, 
worth while to do any of these things. He was an 
excellent angler, but he rarely fished ; partly be- 
cause of the shortness of days, partly on account of 
the uncertainty of bites, but principally because the 
trout brooks were all arranged lengthwise and ran 
over so much ground. But no man liked to look 
at a string of trout better than he did, and he was 
willing to sit down in a sunny place and talk about 
trout-fishing half a day at a time, and he would talk 
pleasantly and well too, though his wife might be 
continually interrupting him by a call for firewood. 



230 BACKLOG STUDIES 

I should not do justice to his own idea of himself 
if I did not add that he was most respectably con- 
nected, and that he had a justifiable though fee- 
ble pride in his family. It helped his self-respect, 
which no ignoble circumstances could destroy. He 
was, as must appear by this time, a most intelligent 
man, and he was a well-informed man ; that is to 
say, he read the weekly newspapers when he could 
get them, and he had the average country informa- 
tion about Beecher and Greeley and the Prussian 
war (" Napoleon is gettin' on 't, ain't he ? ") and the 
general prospect of the election campaigns. In- 
deed, he was warmly, or rather luke-warmly, in- 
terested in politics. He liked to talk about the 
inflated currency, and it seemed plain to him that 
his condition would somehow be improved if we 
could get to a specie basis. He was, in fact, a little 
troubled by the national debt ; it seemed to press 
on him somehow, while his own never did. He ex- 
hibited more animation over the affairs of the gov- 
ernment than he did over his own, — an evidence 
at once of his disinterestedness and his patriotism. 
He had been an old abolitionist, and was strong on 
the rights of free labor, though he did not care to 
exercise his privilege much. Of course, he had the 
proper contempt for the poor whites down South. 
I never saw a person with more correct notions 
on such a variety of subjects. He was perfectly 



BACKLOG STUDIES 231 

willing that churches (being himself a member) and 
Sunday-schools and missionary enterprises should 
go on ; in fact, I do not believe he ever opposed 
anything in his life. No one was more willing to 
vote town taxes and road repairs and schoolhouses 
than he. If you could call him spirited at all, he 
was public-spirited. 

And with all this he was never very well; he 
had, from boyhood, "enjoyed poor health." You 
would say he was not a man who would ever catch 
anything, not even an epidemic ; but he was a per- 
son whom diseases would be likely to overtake, even 
the slowest of slow fevers. And he was n't a man 
to shake off anything. And yet sickness seemed to 
trouble him no more than poverty. He was not 
discontented ; he never grumbled. I am not sure 
but he relished a " spell of sickness " in haying-time. 

An admirably balanced man, who accepts the 
world as it is,, and evidently lives on the experience 
of others. I have never seen a man with less envy 
or more cheerfulness, or so contented with as little 
reason for being so. The only drawback to his 
future is that rest beyond the grave will not be 
much change for him, and he has no works to fol- 
low him. 

Ill 

This Yankee philosopher, who, without being 
a Brahmin, had, in an uncongenial atmosphere. 



232 BACKLOG STUDIES 

reached the perfect condition of Nirvdna, re- 
minded us all of the ancient sages ; and we queried 
whether a world that could produce such as he, 
and could, beside, lengthen a man's years to one 
hundred and thirteen, could fairly be called an old 
and worn-out world, having long passed the stage 
of its primeval poetry and simplicity. Many an 
Eastern dervish has, I think, got immortality upon 
less laziness and resignation than this temporary 
sojourner in Massachusetts. It is a common notion 
that the world (meaning the people in it) has be- 
come tame and commonplace, — lost its primeval 
freshness and epigrammatic point. Mandeville, in 
his argumentative way, dissents from this entirely. 
He says that the world is more complex, varied, 
and a thousand times as interesting as it was in 
what we call its youth, and that it is as fresh, as 
individual, and capable of producing odd and eccen- 
tric characters as ever. He thought the creative 
vim had not in any degree abated, that both the 
types of men and of nations are as sharply stamped 
and defined as ever they were. 

Was there ever, he said, in the past, any figure 
more clearly cut and freshly minted than the 
Yankee ? Had the Old World anything to show 
more positive and uncompromising in all the ele- 
ments of character than the Englishman ? And if 
the edges of these were being rounded off, was 



He relished a '■'■ spell of sickness'''' in haying-time 




I 

1 

i 




I 

1 




I: 


i 1 * 

1 ' 


, 1 ' 

- .1 
'1 ] 


l' 










BACKLOG STUDIES 233 

there not developing in the extreme West a type 
of men different from all preceding, which the 
world could not yet define ? He believed that the 
production of original types was simply infinite. 

Herbert urged that he must at least admit that 
there was a freshness of legend and poetry in what 
we call the primeval peoples that is wanting now ; 
the mythic period is gone, at any rate. 

Mandeville could not say about the myths. We 
couldn't tell what interpretation succeeding ages 
would put upon our lives and history and literature 
when they have become remote and shadowy. But 
we need not go to antiquity for epigrammatic wis- 
dom, or for characters as racy of the fresh earth as 
those handed down to us from the dawn of history. 
He would put Benjamin Franklin against any of the 
sages of the mythic or the classic period. He would 
have been perfectly at home in ancient Athens, 
as Socrates would have been in modern Boston. 
There might have been more heroic characters at 
the siege of Troy than Abraham Lincoln, but there 
was not one more strongly marked individually ; 
not one his superior in what we call primeval craft 
and humor. He was just the man, if he could not 
have dislodged Priam by a writ of ejectment, to 
have invented the wooden horse, and then to have 
made Paris the hero of some ridiculous story that 
would have set all Asia in a roar. 



234 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Mandeville said further that as to poetry, he did 
not know much about that, and there was not much 
he cared to read except parts of Shakespeare and 
Homer and passages of Milton. But it did seem 
to him that we had men nowadays who could, if 
they would give their minds to it, manufacture in 
quantity the same sort of epigrammatic sayings and 
legends that our scholars were digging out of the 
Orient. He did not know why Emerson in antique 
setting was not as good as Saadi. Take, for in- 
stance, said Mandeville, such a legend as this, and 
how easy it would be to make others like it ! — 

The son of an Emir had redhair^ of which he was 
ashamedy and wished to dye it. But his father 
said: *^ Nay^ my sony rather behave in such a man- 
ner that all fathers shall wish their sons had red 
hair.^' 

This was too absurd. Mandeville had gone too 
far, except in the opinion of Our Next Door, who 
declared that an imitation was just as good as an 
original, if you could not detect it. But Herbert 
said that the closer an imitation is to an original, 
the more unendurable it is. But nobody could tell 
exactly why. 

The Fire-Tender said that we are imposed on by 
forms. The nuggets of wisdom that are dug out of 
the Oriental and remote literatures would often 
prove to be only commonplace if stripped of their 



BACKLOG STUDIES 235 

quaint setting. If you give an Oriental twist to 
some of our modern thought, its value would be 
greatly enhanced for many people. 

I have seen those, said the Mistress, who seem 
to prefer dried fruit to fresh ; but I like the straw- 
berry and the peach of each season, and for me the 
last is always the best. 

Even the Parson admitted that there were no 
signs of fatigue or decay in the creative energy of 
the world ; and if it is a question of Pagans, he pre- 
ferred Mandeville to Saadi. 



ELEVENTH STUDY 




ELEVENTH STUDY 



IT happened, or rather, to tell the truth, it was 
contrived, — for I have waited too long for 
things to turn up to have much faith in 
"happen," — that we who have sat by this hearth- 
stone before should all be together on Christmas 
Eve. There was a splendid backlog of hickory 
just beginning to burn with a glow that promised 
to grow more fiery till long past midnight, which 
would have needed no apology in a loggers' camp, 
— not so much as the religion of which a lady (in 
a city which shall be nameless) said, " If you must 
have a religion, this one will do nicely." 



240 BACKLOG STUDIES 

There was not much conversation, as is apt to 
be the case when people come together who have 
a great deal to say, and are intimate enough to 
permit the freedom of silence. It was Mandeville 
who suggested that we read something, and the 
Young Lady, who was in a mood to enjoy her own 
thoughts, said, " Do." And finally it came about 
that the Fire-Tender, without more resistance to 
the urging than was becoming, went to his library, 
and returned with a manuscript, from which he 
read the story of 

MY UNCLE IN INDIA. 

Not that it is my uncle, let me explain. It is 
Polly's uncle, as I very well know, from the many 
times she has thrown him up to me, and is liable 
so to do at any moment. Having small expecta- 
tions myself, and having wedded Polly when they 
were smaller, I have come to feel the full force, 
the crushing weight, of her lightest remark about 
"My Uncle in India." The words as I write them 
convey no idea of the tone in which they fall upon 
my ears. I think it is the only fault of that esti- 
mable woman that she has an uncle in India, and 
does not let him quietly remain there. I feel quite 
sure that if I had an uncle in Botany Bay I should 
never, never throw him up to Polly in the way 
mentioned. If there is any jar in our quiet life, he 



BACKLOG STUDIES 241 

is the cause of it ; all along of possible " expecta- 
tions " on the one side calculated to overawe the 
other side not having expectations. And yet I 
know that if her uncle in India were this night to 
roll a barrel of " India's golden sands," as I feel that 
he any moment may do, into our sitting-room, at 
Polly's feet, that charming wife, who is more gen- 
erous than the month of May, and who has no 
thought but for my comfort in two worlds, would 
straightway make it over to me, to have and to 
hold, if I could lift it, forever and forever. And 
that makes it more inexplicable that she, being a 
woman, will continue to mention him in the way 
she does. 

In a large and general way I regard uncles as 
not out of place in this transitory state of existence. 
They stand for a great many possible advantages. 
They are liable to "tip" you at school, they are 
resources in vacation, they come grandly in play 
about the holidays, at which season my heart al- 
ways did warm towards them with lively expecta- 
tions, which were often turned into golden solidi- 
ties ; and then there is always the prospect, sad to 
a sensitive mind, that uncles are mortal, and, in 
their timely taking off, may prove as generous in 
the will as they were in the deed. And there is 
always this redeeming possibility in a niggardly 
uncle. Still there must be something wrong in the 



242 BACKLOG STUDIES 

character of the nnclQperse, or all history would 
not agree that nepotism is such a dreadful thing. 

But, to return from this unnecessary digression, 
I am reminded that the charioteer of the patient 
year has brought round the holiday time. It has 
been a growing year, as most years are. It is very 
pleasant to see how the shrubs in our little patch 
of ground widen and thicken and bloom at the 
right time, and to know that the great trees have 
added a layer to their trunks. To be sure, our gar- 
den — which I planted under Polly's directions, with 
seeds that must have been patented, and I forgot 
to buy the right of, for they are mostly still wait- 
ing the final resurrection — gave evidence that it 
shared in the misfortune of the Fall, and was never 
an Eden from which one would have required to 
be driven. It was the easiest garden to keep the 
neighbors' pigs and hens out of I ever saw. If its 
increase was small, its temptations were smaller, 
and that is no little recommendation in this world 
of temptations. But, as a general thing, every- 
thing has grown, except our house. That little 
cottage, over which Polly presides with grace 
enough to adorn a palace, is still small outside and 
smaller inside ; and if it has an air of comfort and 
of neatness, and its rooms are cosy and sunny by 
day and cheerful by night, and it is bursting with 
books, and not unattractive with modest pictures 



BACKLOG STUDIES 243 

on the walls, which we think do well enough until 
my uncle — (but never mind my uncle, now) — and 
if, in the long winter evenings, when the largest 
lamp is lit, and the chestnuts glow in embers, and 
the kid turns on the spit, and the house-plants are 
green and flowering, and the ivy glistens in the 
firelight, and Polly sits with that contented far-away 
look in her eyes that I like to see, her fingers busy 
upon one of those cruel mysteries which have de- 
lighted the sex since Penelope, and I read in one 
of my fascinating law-books, or perhaps regale our- 
selves with a taste of Montaigne, — if all this is 
true, there are times when the cottage seems small ; 
though I can never find that Polly thinks so, except 
when she sometimes says that she does not know 
where she should bestow her uncle in it, if he 
should suddenly come back from India. 

There it is, again. I sometimes think that my 
wife believes her uncle in India to be as large as 
two ordinary men ; and if her ideas of him are any 
gauge of the reality, there is no place in the town 
large enough for him except the Town Hall. She 
probably expects him to come with his bungalow, 
and his sedan, and his palanquin, and his elephants, 
and his retinue of servants, and his principalities, 
and his powers, and his ha — (no, not that), and his 
chow-chow, and his — I scarcely know what be- 
sides. 



244 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Christmas Eve was a shiny cold night, a creak- 
ing cold night, a placid, calm, swingeing cold night. 
Outdoors had gone into a general state of crystal- 
lization. The snow-fields were like the vast Arctic 
ice-fields that Kane looked on, and lay sparkling 
under the moonlight, crisp and Christmasy; and 
all the crystals on the trees and bushes hung glis- 
tening, as if ready, at a breath of air, to break out 
into metallic ringing, like a million silver joy-bells. 
I mentioned the conceit to Polly, as we stood at 
the window, and she said it reminded her of Jean 
Paul. She is a woman of most remarkable discern- 
ment. 

Christmas is a great festival at our house in a 
small way. Among the many delightful customs 
we did not inherit from our Pilgrim Fathers, there 
is none so pleasant as that of giving presents at 
this season. It is the most exciting time of the 
year. No one is too rich to receive something, and 
no one too poor to give a trifle. And in the act of 
giving and receiving these tokens of regard, all the 
world is kin for once, and brighter for this transient 
glow of generosity. Delightful custom ! Hard is 
the lot of childhood that knows nothing of the 
visits of Kriss Kringle, or the stockings hung by 
the chimney at night; and cheerless is any age 
that is not brightened by some Christmas gift, 
however humble. What a mystery of preparation 



BACKLOG STUDIES 245 

there is in the preceding days, what planning and 
plottings of surprises ! Polly and I keep up the 
custom in our simple way, and great is the perplex- 
ity to express the greatest amount of affection with 
a limited outlay. For the excellence of a gift lies 
in its appropriateness rather than in its value. As 
we stood by the window that night, we wondered 
what we should receive this year, and indulged in 
I know not what little hypocrisies and deceptions. 

"I wish," said Polly, "that my uncle in India 
would send me a camel's-hair shawl, or a string of 
pearls, each as big as the end of my thumb." 

" Or a white cow, which would give golden milk, 
that would make butter worth seventy-five cents 
a pound," I added, as we drew the curtains, and 
turned to our chairs before the open fire. 

It is our custom on every Christmas Eve — as I 
believe I have somewhere said, or, if I have not, I 
say it again, as the member from Erin might re- 
mark — to read one of Dickens's Christmas stories. 
And this night, after punching the fire until it sent 
showers of sparks up the chimney, I read the open- 
ing chapter of "Mrs. Lirriper*s Lodgings," in my 
best manner, and handed the book to Polly to con- 
tinue ; for I do not so much relish reading aloud 
the succeeding stories of Mr. Dickens's annual 
budget, since he wrote them, as men go to war in 
these days, by substitute. And Polly read on, in 



246 BACKLOG STUDIES 

her melodious voice, which is almost as pleasant 
to me as the Wasser-fluth of Schubert, which she 
often plays at twilight ; and I looked into the fire, 
unconsciously constructing stories of my own out 
of the embers. And her voice still went on, in a 
sort of running accompaniment to my airy or fiery 
fancies. 

" 'Sleep } " said Polly, stopping with what seemed 
to me a sort of crash, in which all the castles tum- 
bled into ashes. 

"Not in the least," I answered brightly ; "never 
heard anything more agreeable." And the reading 
flowed on and on and on, and I looked steadily into 
the fire, the fire, fire, fi — 

Suddenly the door opened, and into our cosy 
parlor walked the most venerable personage I ever 
laid eyes on, who saluted me with great dignity. 
Summer seemed to have burst into the room, and 
I was conscious of a puff of Oriental airs and a 
delightful, languid tranquillity. I was not surprised 
that the figure before me was clad in full turban, 
baggy drawers, and a long loose robe, girt about 
the middle with a rich shawl. Followed him a 
swart attendant, who hastened to spread a rug upon 
which my visitor sat down, with great gravity, as 
I am informed they do in farthest Ind. The slave 
then filled the bowl of a long-stemmed chibouk, 
and, handing it to his master, retired behind him 



Conscious of a puff of oriental airs 



BACKLOG STUDIES 247 

and began to fan him with the most prodigious 
palm-leaf I ever saw. Soon the fumes of the deli- 
cate tobacco of Persia pervaded the room, like some 
costly aroma which you cannot buy, now the enter- 
tainment of the Arabian Nights is discontinued. 

Looking through the window I saw, if I saw any- 
thing, a palanquin at our door, and attendant on it 
four dusky, half-naked bearers, who did not seem 
to fancy the splendor of the night, for they jumped 
about on the snow crust, and I could see them 
shiver and shake in the keen air. Oho ! thought 
I, this, then, is my uncle from India ! 

" Yes, it is," now spoke my visitor extraordinary, 
in a gruff, harsh voice. 

" I think I have heard Polly speak of you," I 
rejoined, in an attempt to be civil, for I did n't like 
his face any better than I did his voice, — a red, 
fiery, irascible kind of face. 

" Yes, I Ve come over to — Oh, Lord ! Quick, 
Jamsetzee, lift up that foot, — take care. There, 
Mr. Trimings, if that 's your name, get me a glass 
of brandy, stiff." 

I got him our little apothecary - labeled bottle, 
and poured out enough to preserve a whole can of 
peaches. My uncle took it down without a wink, 
as if it had been water, and seemed relieved. It 
was a very pleasant uncle to have at our fireside on 
Christmas Eve, I felt. 



248 BACKLOG STUDIES 

At a motion from my uncle, Jamsetzee handed 
me a parcel which I saw was directed to Polly, 
which I untied, and lo ! the most wonderful camel' s- 
hair shawl that ever was, so fine that I immediately 
drew it through my finger-ring, and so large that 
I saw it would entirely cover our little room if I 
spread it out ; a dingy red color, but splendid in ap- 
pearance from the little white hieroglyphic worked 
in one corner, which is always worn outside, to show 
that it cost nobody knows how many thousands of 
dollars. 

"A Christmas trifle for Polly. I have come 
home — as I was saying when that confounded 
twinge took me — to settle down ; and I intend to 
make Polly my heir, and live at my ease and enjoy 
life. Move that leg a little, Jamsetzee." 

I meekly replied that I had no doubt Polly would 
be delighted to see her dear uncle, and as for inher- 
iting, if it came to that, I did n't know any one with 
a greater capacity for that than she. 

" That depends," said the gruff old smoker, " how 
I like ye. A fortune, scraped up in forty years in 
Ingy, ain't to be thrown away in a minute. But 
what a house this is to live in ! " the uncomforta- 
ble old relative went on, throwing a contemptu- 
ous glance round the humble cottage. " Is this all 
of it?" 

" In the winter it is all of it," I said, flushing up ; 



BACKLOG STUDIES 249 

" but in the summer, when the doors and windows 
are open, it is as large as anybody's house. And," 
I went on, with some warmth, " it was large enough 
just before you came in, and pleasant enough. And 
besides," I said, rising into indignation, **you can- 
not get anything much better in this city short of 
eight hundred dollars a year, payable first days of 
January, April, July, and October, in advance, and 
my salary " — 

" Hang your salary, and confound your impudence 
and your seven-by-nine hovel! Do you think /^^ 
have anything to say about the use of my money, 
scraped up in forty years in Ingy ? Things have 
GOT TO BE CHANGED ! " hc burst out, in a voice that 
rattled the glasses on the sideboard. 

I should think they were. Even as I looked into 
the little fireplace it enlarged, and there was an 
enormous grate, level with the floor, glowing with 
sea-coal ; and a magnificent mantel carved in oak, 
old and brown ; and over it hung a landscape, wide, 
deep, summer in the foreground with all the gor- 
geous coloring of the tropics, and beyond hills of 
blue and far mountains lying in rosy light. I held 
my breath as I looked down the marvelous per- 
spective. Looking round for a second, I caught a 
glimpse of a Hindoo at each window, who vanished 
as if they had been whisked off by enchantment ; 
and the close walls that shut us in fled away. Had 



250 BACKLOG STUDIES 

cohesion and gravitation given out ? Was it the 
" Great Consummation " of the year i8 — ? It was 
all like the swift transformation of a dream, and I 
pinched my arm to make sure that I was not the 
subject of some diablerie. 

The little house was gone ; but that I scarcely 
minded, for I had suddenly come into possession 
of my wife's castle in Spain. I sat in a spacious, 
lofty apartment, furnished with a princely magni- 
ficence. Rare pictures adorned the walls, statues 
looked down from deep niches, and over both the 
dark ivy of England ran and drooped in graceful 
luxuriance. Upon the heavy tables were costly 
illuminated volumes ; luxurious chairs and ottomans 
invited to easy rest ; and upon the ceiling Aurora 
led forth all the flower-strewing daughters of the 
dawn in brilliant frescoes. Through the open doors 
my eyes wandered into magnificent apartment after 
apartment. There to the south, through folding- 
doors, was the splendid library, with groined roof, 
colored light streaming in through painted windows, 
high shelves stowed with books, old armor hanging 
on the walls, great carved oaken chairs about a 
solid oaken table, and beyond a conservatory of 
flowers and plants with a fountain springing in the 
centre, the splashing of whose waters I could hear. 
Through the open windows I looked upon a lawn, 
green with close-shaven turf, set with ancient trees. 



BACKLOG STUDIES 251 

and variegated with parterres of summer plants in 
bloom. It was the month of June, and the smell 
of roses was in the air. 

I might have thought it only a freak of my fancy, 
but there by the fireplace sat a stout, red-faced, 
puffy-looking man, in the ordinary dress of an Eng- 
lish gentleman, whom I had no difficulty in recog- 
nizing as my uncle from India. 

" One wants a fire every day in the year in this 
confounded climate," remarked that amiable old 
person, addressing no one in particular. 

I had it on my lips to suggest that I trusted the 
day would come when he would have heat enough 
to satisfy him, in permanent supply. I wish now 
that I had. 

I think things had changed. For now into this 
apartment, full of the morning sunshine, came 
sweeping with the air of a countess born, and a 
maid of honor bred, and a queen in expectancy, my 
Polly, stepping with that lofty grace which I always 
knew she possessed, but which she never had space 
to exhibit in our little cottage, dressed with that 
elegance and richness that I should not have deemed 
possible to the most Dutch duchess that ever lived, 
and, giving me a complacent nod of recognition, 
approached her uncle, and said in her smiling, cheery 
way, " How is the dear uncle this morning ? " And, 
as she spoke, she actually bent down and kissed 



252 BACKLOG STUDIES 

his horrid old cheek, red-hot with currie and brandy 
and all the biting pickles I can neither eat nor 
name, — kissed him, and I did not turn into stone. 

"Comfortable as the weather will permit, my 
darling ! " — and again I did not turn into stone. 

" Would n't uncle like to take a drive this charm- 
ing morning } " Polly asked. 

Uncle finally grunted out his willingness, and 
Polly swept away again to prepare for the drive, 
taking no more notice of me than if I had been a 
poor assistant office lawyer on a salary. And soon 
the carriage was at the door, and my uncle, bundled 
up like a mummy, and the charming Polly drove 
gayly away. 

How pleasant it is to be married rich, I thought, 
as I arose and strolled into the library, where every- 
thing was elegant and prim and neat, with no scraps 
of paper and piles of newspapers or evidences of 
literary slovenliness on the table, and no books in 
attractive disorder, and where I seemed to see the 
legend staring at me from all the walls, "No 
smoking." So I uneasily lounged out of the house. 
And a magnificent house it was, a palace, rather, 
that seemed to frown upon and bully insignificant 
me with its splendor, as I walked away from it 
towards town. 

And why town ? There was no use of doing any- 
thing at the dingy office. Eight hundred dollars a 



BACKLOG STUDIES 253 

year ! It would n't keep Polly in gloves, let alone 
dressing her for one of those fashionable entertain- 
ments to which we went night after night. And so, 
after a weary day with nothing in it, I went home 
to dinner, to find my uncle quite chirruped up with 
his drive, and Polly regnant, sublimely engrossed in 
her new world of splendor, a dazzling object of ad- 
miration to me, but attentive and even tender to 
that hypochondriacal, gouty old subject from India. 

Yes, a magnificent dinner, with no end of ser- 
vants, who seemed to know that I could n't have 
paid the wages of one of them, and plate and 
courses endless. I say, a miserable dinner, on the 
edge of which I seemed to sit by permission of 
somebody, like an invited poor relation, who wishes 
he had sent a regret, and longing for some of those 
nice little dishes that Polly used to set before me 
with beaming face, in the dear old days. 

And after dinner, and proper attention to the 
comfort for the night of our benefactor, there was 
the Blibgims's party. No long, confidential inter- 
views, as heretofore, as to what she should wear and 
what I should wear, and whether it would do to 
wear it again. And Polly went in one coach, and I 
in another. No crowding into the hired hack, with 
all the delightful care about tumbling dresses, and 
getting there in good order ; and no coming home 
together to our little cosy cottage, in a pleasant, 



254 BACKLOG STUDIES 

excited state of " flutteration," and sitting down 
to talk it all over, and " Was n't it nice ? " and 
** Did I look as well as anybody ? " and " Of course 
you did to me," and all that nonsense. We lived 
in a grand way now, and had our separate establish- 
ments and separate plans, and I used to think that 
a real separation could n't make matters much dif- 
ferent. Not that Polly meant to be any different, 
or was, at heart ; but, you know, she was so much 
absorbed in her new life of splendor, and perhaps I 
was a little old-fashioned. 

I don't wonder at it now, as I look back. There 
was an army of dressmakers to see, and a world 
of shopping to do, and a houseful of servants to 
manage, and all the afternoon for calls, and her 
dear, dear friend, with the artless manners and 
merry heart of a girl, and the dignity and grace of 
a noble woman, — the dear friend who lived in the 
house of the Seven Gables, — to consult about all 
manner of important things. I could not, upon my 
honor, see that there was any place for me, and 
I went my own way, not that there was much 
comfort in it. 

And then I would rather have had charge of a 
hospital ward than take care of that uncle. Such 
coddling as he needed, such humoring of whims. 
And I am bound to say that Polly could n't have 
been more dutiful to him if he had been a Hindoo 



BACKLOG STUDIES 255 

idol. She read to him and talked to him, and sat 
by him with her embroidery, and was patient with 
his crossness, and wearied herself, that I could see, 
with her devoted ministrations. 

I fancied sometimes she was tired of it, and 
longed for the old homely simplicity. I was. Ne- 
potism had no charms for me. There was nothing 
that I could get Polly that she had not. I could 
surprise her with no little delicacies or trifles, de- 
lightedly bought with money saved for the purpose. 
There was no more coming home weary with office 
work, and being met at the door with that warm, 
loving welcome which the King of England could 
not buy. There was no long evening when we 
read alternately from some favorite book, or laid 
our deep housekeeping plans, rejoiced in a good 
bargain or made light of a poor one, and were con- 
tented and merry with little. I recalled with long- 
ing my little den, where in the midst of the literary 
disorder I love, I wrote those stories for the " Ant- 
arctic " which Polly, if nobody else, liked to read. 
There was no comfort for me in my magnificent 
library. We were all rich and in splendor, and our 
uncle had come from India. I wished, saving his 
soul, that the ship that brought him over had foun- 
dered off Barnegat Light. It would always have 
been a tender and regretful memory to both of us. 
And how sacred is the memory of such a loss ! 



256 BACKLOG STUDIES 

Christmas ? What delight could I have in long 
solicitude and ingenious devices touching a gift for 
Polly within my means, and hitting the border-line 
between her necessities and her extravagant fancy ? 
A drove of white elephants would n't have been 
good enough for her now, if each one carried a 
castle on his back. 

— " and so they were married, and in their snug 
cottage lived happy ever after." — It was Polly's 
voice, as she closed the book. 

" There ! I don't believe you have heard a word 
of it," she said, half complainingly. 

" Oh yes, I have," I cried, starting up and giving 
the fire a jab with the poker ; " I heard every word 
of it, except a few at the close. I was thinking " — 
I stopped, and looked round. 

** Why, Polly, where is the camel' s-hair shawl ? " 

" Camel' s-hair fiddlestick ! Now I know you 
have been asleep for an hour." 

And, sure enough, there was n*t any camel's-hair 
shawl there, nor any uncle, nor were there any 
Hindoos at our windows. 

And then I told Polly all about it ; how her uncle 
came back, and we were rich and lived in a palace 
and had no end of money, but she did n't seem to 
have time to love me in it all, and all the comfort of 
the little house was blown away as by the winter 
wind. And Polly vowed, half in tears, that she 



BACKLOG STUDIES 257 

hoped her uncle never would come back, and she 
wanted nothing that we had not, and she would n't 
exchange our independent comfort and snug house, 
no, not for anybody's mansion. And then and 
there we made it all up, in a manner too particular 
for me to mention ; and I have never, to this day, 
heard Polly allude to My Uncle in India. 

And then, as the clock struck eleven, we each 
produced from the place where we had hidden them 
the modest Christmas gifts we had prepared for 
each other, and what surprise there was ! " Just 
the thing I needed." And " It 's perfectly lovely." 
And " You should n't have done it." And, then, a 
question I never will answer, ** Ten ? fifteen ? five ? 
twelve?" "My dear, it cost eight hundred dol- 
lars, for I have put my whole year into it, and I 
wish it was a thousand times better." 

And so, when the great iron tongue of the city 
bell swept over the snow the twelve strokes that 
announced Christmas Day, if there was anywhere 
a happier home than ours, I am glad of it ! 



BLECTROTYPED AND PRINTED 
BY H. O. HOUGHTON AND CO. 

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CAMBRIDGE, MASS., V. S. A. 



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